Remembering Stack Overflow

Back in October I asked “Is Stack Overflow Useful for Web Developers?“. The context to this question was the decline in usage of mailing lists by those involved in Web management and Web development. In response to an early post Virginia Knight suggested that “many email lists to have a natural life-cycle ending with dormancy”. But where, I asked in the post, should Web developers go if they have such queries which need answering?  Might Stack Overflow provide an alternative?

It was suggested that “most web developers will have come across Stack Overflow quite some time ago. If only through stumbling across it when Googling for a solution to a particular problem“. It was also pointed out that “Stack Overflow also runs Server Fault, and Super User; two very similar sites with a different focus“. But if there are a number of Social Web services which might provide advantages over mailing lists for developers, are there equivalent services with a more general scope, I wondered?

Introducing Quora

It was when I looking at Stack Overflow and its StackExchange sister sites that I came across the Quora service.  This is another question and answer site. But in answer to a question “How is Quora different from StackOverflow?” posed on Quora the answers given include:

  • I’d say the connection between Quora’s founders and Facebook is the thing that has excited most people, but it remains to be seen whether this translates into something that makes Quora into a more compelling moneymaker than StackOverflow or the larger and broader sites like
  • StackOverflow is a “programming Q & A site”. Quora’s scope is more general than that.
  • StackOverflow (and its StackExchange sister sites) highlight quantitative achievements (scores, badges) much more, so the gamishness is “have I reached a new level?” Quora emphasizes instant feedback/live-presence, so the gamishness is “can I click back to where the action is happening right now.”
  • It also focuses on many topics and you choose what to follow, instead of visiting different stackoverflow-based sites.

Meanwhil over on the Stack Overflow site the question “What can we learn from Quora?” is answered with the response:

I personally don’t think Quora is even on the same field as us — we’re playing baseball, they’re playing football. Here’s why:

  • we don’t care about the social graph, we care about the information graph. Even if that leads off-site or comes from Google. Heck, we don’t even ask you to register — ever!
  • we believe that the best content comes from topic specific sites (cooking, programming, parenting), and the communities that form around those topics, not a “generic one size fits all Q&A engine”
  • we’re not tied to Facebook (and its social graph)
  • we allow 100% anonymous participation
  • we creative commons all our content (unsure what they do here)

So the services have different scopes and different approaches.  But is there anything to suggest that Quora might become popular, just as Stack Overflow has done within the developer community?

Is Quora Getting Popular?

Yesterday George Seimens (@gseimens) asked on Twitter:

What are good strategies for dealing with information overload? (Quora)

The tweet linked to a question posed on Quora: “What are some good strategies for dealing with information overload” and included George’s response.

I spotted this tweet shortly after reading another tweet from Cameron Neylon (@cameronneylon) who also referenced an answer he had provided on Quora:

My answer on Quora to: What do people think about the recent Google report on social networks?

My Twitter followers are starting to answer questions posed on Quora, it seems.  And, in addition, I am now being followed on Quora, a service I only joined a few months ago.  As can be seen, eight people started to follow me on Boxing Day!

It seems that we are starting to see signals which indicate a growing popularity in the Quora service, which includes responding to queries as well as following answers.

A question “How many people use Quora?” has been posed on Quora and the answers  (378,639 on 14 December 2010 being the most recent estimate) and accompanying graph indicate that Quora is rapidly growing in popularity.

I would speculate that the early adopters of Twitter might also be willing to make use of Quora in its early days.  I wonder if Quora might have a role to play in providing a forum for wider and more in-depth discussions of issues raised on Twitter?

Note: After writing this post I came across a post on TechnCrunch entitled “Q: What Does Quora Mean For The Future Of Blogging? A: Business As Usual” which cited a post by Robert Scoble in which he wondered  “if Quora was the biggest blogging innovation in 10 years?”. Robert Scoble summarised what he felt was innovative about the Quora service:

First, it learned from Twitter. Ask your users a question and they’ll answer it.

Second, they learned from Facebook. Build a news feed that brings new items to you.

Third, they learned from the best social networks. You follow people you like. But then they twisted it. You can follow topics. Or you can follow questions in addition to following people. This is great for new users who might not know anyone. They can follow topics.

Fourth, they learned from blogs about how to do great SEO. I’ve started seeing Quora show up on Google.

Fifth, they learned from FriendFeed, Digg, and other systems that let you vote up things. If you watch a question that has a lot of engagement you’ll even see votes roll in live. It’s very addictive.

Sixth, they brought the live “engagement display” that Google Wave had: it shows who is answering a question WHILE they are answering it.

Seventh, it has a great search engine for you to find things you are interested in

Interesting. In light of these observations I have chosen to follow topics on Linked Data and HTML5.  I also noticed that, unlike the first two topics, the Digital Preservation topic does not have a description of FAQ. Hmm, if you have a scholarly interest in a topic should you be looking to not only create a page in WIkipedia about the topic but also manage a discussion area in Quora? Perhaps the case for Quora is not yet proven but if you wish to maximise one’s impact surely the case for engagement with such popular services is now accepted?