Let me start with a disclaimer: I am not writing this in my capacity as a university professor or researcher; I don’t claim to be an expert on social networking; and I will be happy to be proven wrong—I have no vested interest in the success or failure of Quora.  And, given the fire I’ve already taken for tweeting an opinion that defies the Valley’s infinite wisdom, I know that this post will offend many in Silicon Valley—as did my piece on why I Craigslisted my iPads.  But I just don’t believe that Quora will “rule” or become anything like Facebook or Twitter.  It has been a very nice private club; but it’s not for the general public.

Quora is a new question-and-answer site on which a few notable members of Silicon Valley’s tech elite have expressed their opinions.  Some of the discussions have been very informative; some, completely misinformed.  Some questions are of general interest, such as: Will there be a tech sector crash in the near future?; some are obscure: Who are the most successful entrepreneurs with Iranian roots?; some are just plain silly: How much does Netflix spend on postage each year? Quora’s membership is growing largely because of the attention that TechCrunch has given it (including the Best Startup award). Over the last month, I have received dozens of messages from TechCrunch readers asking what I think about Quora and why I am not using it.

The answer is simple: I think that Quora will continue to be an excellent resource if the same people who have been hyping it, and who have invested in it, keep posting their thoughtful answers. But I believe that the excess hype is destined to make Quora a victim of its own press.  The quality of answers will decline.  The people whose opinion I value, such as Quora’s #1 respondent, Robert Scoble, will simply stop posting on the site when they get drowned out by the noise from the masses.  They will turn away after having their posts voted down (so that they look less important than their peers) and being personally subjected to the types of mindless, anonymous attacks that you see in the comments section of TechCrunch.

Not to say that there aren’t many other smart people who will post good answers.  But when there are hundreds of answers to a given question, by people you have never heard of (often with fictitious names), how will you separate the wheat from the chaff?  And how will you distinguish fact from fiction?  You certainly can’t trust the rankings of the respondents when these rankings are themselves generated by Quora users.

Quora says it will educate users on its policies, guidelines, and conventions and that it will moderate answers more effectively.  It claims that the site does not allow anonymity.  But you can easily sign up for a Quora account with any of your Twitter accounts (you can create as many of these as you want—with fictitious names).  You can then vote down answers from people you don’t like, edit questions asked by others, and post your own views. You can talk about your own products and services, and disparage others'; in other words, it is a spammers’ paradise.  How is Quora going to manage hundreds of thousands—or millions—of unruly users, when even the mighty Google seems to be losing the battle for spam?

Right now, Quora is tech focused.  Its fans proudly proclaim that its usage will spread, just as usage of Twitter did; that it will become a platform for everything from product research to customer service to education.  Robert Scoble expects it to create a “great community and way for people to communicate about what’s interesting in their lives in a new way”.

Silicon Valley is again drinking its own Kool-Aid; it is looking at the world through its own prism. This is a common problem here, where we jump from one fad to another; where venture capitalists start investing in similar technologies and drive company valuations through the roof; where TechCrunch hypes the technology du jour and causes entrepreneurs all over the world to drop what they are doing in favor of building copycat technologies.

Quora isn’t going to be a Facebook or a Twitter. It is not likely to even catch up with the current market leaders in the Q&A space—Answers.com and Yahoo! Answers (which both get more than 40 million unique visitors a month, compared with Quora’s meager 150,000). Unlike Facebook, where everyone socializes, and Twitter, where ordinary people tell their friends what they are thinking, a Quora-like tool is only for those who want to learn what their intellectual peers are saying on, or to research, a particular topic.  This is for the tech types—who dabble in technology and dream about things like startups and funding.

What is more likely to happen and makes far more sense is that a new generation of private, gated communities will grow and evolve.  This is where people with common interests will gather and exchange ideas.  For example, for people seeking legal advice, there is LawPivot, and for businesses looking for experts, there is Focus.   For techies, there are sites like StackOverflow, Slashdot, Hacker News; for children, there is Togetherville; for business students, there is PoetsandQuants; for entrepreneurs in India, there is StartupQnA; for Indian accountants, there is CAClubIndia; and China has its own groups, and so do many other countries.  Why do the Silicon Valley elite believe that everyone will flock to a U.S.-based tech site like Quora?

I am not delusional enough to believe that I can predict the future or guess what the technology landscape will look like a couple of years from now.  But I can make one educated guess.  My guess is that TechCrunch will stop talking about Quora within a few months and that we’ll be discussing the next big fad.

  • Cloudgen

    People with fictitious names doesn’t mean they post answer with low quality. And,in internet, people with real name is not a promise for quality.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/prady Pradeep Kumar

    I cannot agree less and yes gated communities will continue to evolve and grow, we are working on such a thing for students in India called 100Marks. http://100marks.in

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  • Elizabeth

    I just read your article – Thank you for writing this. I am starting a company in the answers and questions space. I thought Quora had some very interesting “pieces” but overall a horrible user experience. Let’s hope I do a better job!

  • Rance

    I find Quora just a dreadful user experience. It’s like living in the USSR with someone always following you around and either commenting on your posts or deleting them.

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  • Anonymous

    Hi Vivek, I have been a keen user of Quora since I discovered it few months back. But I must admit, I use it less now than my first few weeks with it. At that time, it was used mainly by peers, those tech entrepreneurs and investors I love to associate with and learn from. But today, it has open to the mass market diluting the value it provides. I am not sure how Quora can retain the quality, whilst trying to go mass market. Perhaps, it ought to create different clubs or streams, those for tech entrepreneurs and investors; all the social media experts; etc etcnnIt also has the wikipedia type police force, deciding whether you breach their policy or not. I have not spent enough time to learn how this police force is assembled and their quality of scrutiny is monitored.nnMy wish is this: Keep Quora for the tech entrepreneur/investor community. Offer Quora under a different brand to the rest of the world. Sound selfish, doesn’t it?nnBest regardsnManoj nnn

  • FAKE GRIMLOCK

    ME, GRIMLOCK, AGREE WITH ALL WORDS YOU WRITE. QUORA JUST FLASH IN PAN, AND PAN NOT EVEN FULL OF ANYTHING SPECIAL.nnONLY THING MAKING QUORA WORK AM THEM GET LUCKY AND STARTUP ROCKSTARS POST THERE. THAT MAKE EVERYONE THINK “OH BOY, NOW ME HAVE CHANCE TO TALK TO ROCKSTAR, THEM PROBABLY BE MY FRIEND AND OFFER ME JOB!”nnEVEN FOR GRIMLOCK’S TINY ROBOT BRAIN, IT OBVIOUS HOW THAT TURN OUT. STARTUP ROCKSTARS BUSY BEING ROCKSTARS, NO HAVE TIME FOR SWEATY PALMED GROUPIES ON INTERNET. nnUS KINDRED SPIRITS. BOTH TELL TRUTH NO ON IN TECH WORLD LIKE TO HEAR. MAIN DIFFERENCE AM YOU MAYBE SLIGHTLY MORE ELOQUENT WITH WORDS YOU MAKE.

  • Anonymous

    I support your views.nnIn fact, I believe it is an opinion site not an answer site. nnhttp://www.danpontefract.com/?p=674

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  • http://twitter.com/emmjay_rahu rahamathulla mj

    Vadhwa, you have mentioned :nBut you can easily sign up for a Quora account with any of your Twitter accounts.You can talk about your own products and services, and disparage othersu2019; in other words, it is a spammersu2019 paradise. nnDo you think,nthe same risk is not involved any other social networking sites like FaceBook, Orkut, Twitter. If anyone wants to spread spam, that is easier to do, through any medium, including social networking websites. The same old rule applicable here. You have the freedom to choose good or bad. People are not fools. They are aware of they may get ‘biased’ answers and they have the wisdom to choose the right things. nnI use Quora, I get what I want.nnMoreover, Quora is not earned a single penny so far, I think. May be I am wrong. But they are still building their product. So, give them some more time to finish their first round of work first, before evaluation.nLet them complete their exam and you can evaluate the answer papers later. Please don’t interrupt while writing their exam and say “You have lot of chances to fail”. In the exam hall, you are not authorized to do so, even as a external examiner.nnAs you mentioned, like a spammer, your above article is not ‘biased’ , I hope.nThanks for giving the users a chance to comment on your article and reading my feedback.nnRegards,nRahamathulla MJnTwitter URL : http://twitter.com/#!/emmjay_rahun