Mario Sundar

LinkedIn's 2nd PR hire. These are my thoughts on products, public relations, and startups.

Quora’s Vision, Competition

Quora’s Adam D’Angelo penned an interesting year-end post where he articulates Quora’s mission better than they’ve ever done before. As a huge fan of the site and a disappointee with some of their recent work (Quora boards anyone?) I’m glad to see Quora returning to its roots.

Quora’s mission is to share and grow the world’s knowledge.

LIBRARY-OF-ALEXANDRIA

Much of Adam’s thoughts reminded me of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s The American Scholar, which predicts the beauty of Quora and it’s goals many years ago.

I read with joy some of the auspicious signs of the coming days, as they glimmer already through poetry and art, through philosophy and science, through church and state.

Instead of the sublime and beautiful; the near, the low, the common, was explored and poetized.

Give me insight into to-day, and you may have the antique and future worlds. What would we really know the meaning of? The meal in the firkin; the milk in the pan; the ballad in the street; the news of the boat; the glance of the eye; the form and the gait of the body; let me see every trifle bristling with the polarity that ranges it instantly on an eternal law; and the shop, the plough, and the leger, referred to the like cause by which light undulates and poets sing; — and the world lies no longer a dull miscellany and lumber-room, but has form and order; there is no trifle; there is no puzzle; but one design unites and animates the farthest pinnacle and the lowest trench.

That to me, was and is, Quora’s highest ambition: to educate, organize and share the world’s knowledge  from the sublime to the mundane (which is very different from Google’s “organize the world’s information.”) And, it was refreshing to read echoes of that in Adam’s recent post:

We hope to become an internet-scale Library of Alexandria, a place where hundreds of millions of people go to learn about anything and share everything they know.

Or as Emerson said from the users point-of-view:

The scholar is that man who must take up into himself all the ability of the time, all the contributions of the past, all the hopes of the future. He must be an university of knowledges.

Matthew Ingram over at GigaOm suggests this pits Quora with Wikipedia, while Owen Thomas is more like Google v. Quora. Frankly, it’s neither of them.

The battle lines are drawn. Its knowledge platforms that Quora will find itself facing off.

1. Knowledge Platforms: The Old Guard

WordPress, Typepad, etc.

Frankly, any site or service that dabbles in knowledge dissemination is competition to Quora, the only difference here being Quora could be both the platform (like WordPress) and the connector (like Google). I’d have counted Answers sites in this mix but they’re either too niche (Stack Overflow) or dead (Yahoo! Answers and LinkedIn Answers).

So, blogs. There are close to 150 million blogs in the world with Google doing a pretty decent job of corralling that information, sometimes connecting the highest bidder with the rest of us with questions. But that’s not the market Quora is going after. It’s knowledge; a higher quality of information. And where do people share the knowledge they have – mostly on blogs and niche social networks. Think about this: the biggest drawback of most blogs is the ability to build an audience (the more influential, the better) but Quora is great at helping you find that audience and helps you connect with those who seek that knowledge (like Quora credits?)

But before they get there they need to scale their knowledge platform; hence, I’d guess, the push away from Q&A to everything that constitutes knowledge.

2. Knowledge Platforms: The New Wave

Svbtle, Medium & Branch.

Increasingly I’m seeing sites that aim to one-up the WordPresses of the world with “a curated collection of great people who have things to say, “a new way to talk to each other,” or “the sharing of ideas and experiences.”

Oddly enough, two of the above come from the House of Obvious Corp. (the brainchild of Twitter co-founders, Ev and Biz), both of whom “would rather build the next Wikipedia, than Zynga.” Guess who’s building the next Wikipedia – Quora.

While Branch forces us to take a second look at commenting systems, cryptic Medium seems to be aimed at publishers and media companies or something like that. Either way, all of the above are aimed at scaling the quality of knowledge that’s distributed on the internet. And by doing so they aim to become the Google at connecting knowledge with those who seek it.

You may notice I didn’t mention Tumblr because I feel they’ve carved out a unique niche for themselves far from either “quality” or “knowledge” by becoming a social entertainment platform with a specific audience (teenagers and time-wasters?), much like Buzzfeed and Huffington Post both of whom feed off of Tumblr.

3. Social Platforms: News and Blog Niche

LinkedIn Blogs, Facebook News

Much like Tumblr and Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn too have a distinct purpose that immunizes them against Quora. But increasingly, both of these social networking giants, especially LinkedIn seem to making subtle inroads into knowledge sharing. Heck, LinkedIn even recently launched a curated blogging platform. As LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, says in his recent post “It’s Not Just Who You Know, It’s What They Know.”

I’m also personally looking forward to posting on a number of subjects I’ve grown passionate about during the course of my career: how to scale a company; the most valuable management lessons I’ve learned; thoughts about the future of work; how to close the skills gap; and many others.

Topics that you can find answers to on Quora along with the more mundane questions that professionals across various spectrum have asked questions on, but LinkedIn’s scale makes this an interesting one to follow.

Granted, this is but a hobby for LinkedIn; their very own “Apple TV” but as I see it, 2013 is shaping up to be the year of knowledge networks.

Filed under: Branch, Knowledge Networks, Linkedin, Medium, Quora, , , , , , , , ,

Find your Inner Blog.

“Don’t censor yourself. Don’t go along with the crowd. Don’t be greedy. Don’t be cheap.

Young as you are, play dead — so that your eyes will stay open.” – Nadine Gordimer

bigstock_Diamond_In_The_Rough_6613316-e1313788970475

Thus ends Jeffrey Eugenides’ advice to 10 Whiting Award winners this past year. Words that resonate strongly with me during this holiday season for one reason: it’s a swift kick-in-the-pants I need to get me back to writing.

But, more importantly, it’s a welcome thought reminding me of the real reason I started this blog: to find my passion, and to find my inner voice. Words that give me hope that it may not be too late to revive my writing after all.

Other points of wisdom in the article that bestirred my writer’s conscience:

1. “A serious person should try to write posthumously”

That was Nadine Gordimer to Christopher Hitchens. Mortality’s a theme revisited by many artists because “almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

Or as Hitchens put it:

“By that I took her to mean that one should compose as if the usual constraints — of fashion, commerce, self-censorship, public and, perhaps especially, intellectual opinion — did not operate.”

Either way, it can be a most liberating thought. And one that frees up a creative block and forces you to think straight – for the long term.

2. Write with purpose, find your calling

For a while there, I halted my blogging coming up with a flimsy excuse that I needed to find an audience before I shared my words. Every day was an excuse to skip putting my words down on WordPress, while I evaded the hard work of capturing those fleeting thoughts.

I still recall the first time my blog got recognized with a spike in traffic (hat tip to Jason Calacanis). It was one of those magical moments where my passion met an audience. It can’t be planned, it can’t be faked.

You write your first stuff pretty much for yourself, not thinking anybody will read, much less publish, it, not thinking it’ll earn money, therefore not worrying about pleasing anyone or falling in line with any agenda; not worrying about censoring yourself, either, because who’s going to see it? And, miraculously, it worked out.

But once you find the audience, your mind starts working in reverse trying to please that audience, grow that audience, so you repeat yourself with popular “Top 10″ posts, etc. And over time all you’re left with is drivel.

You might begin to forget the person you are in order to write and sound like someone else. Alternately, you might be tempted to repeat yourself. To follow the fashion of your own previous work, to stop exploring, learning and trying new things, for risk of failure.

If you try to write posthumously, however, fashion doesn’t apply.

As far as a blog is concerned all that’s within my control is to write with honesty and try to share that with a few good people who may appreciate it.

As Kurt Woolf, Kafka’s first publisher in Germany, wrote to him after Kafka’s book tanked, “You and we know that it is generally just the best and most valuable things that do not find their echo immediately.”

Fashion is the attempt to evade that principle: to be the echo of someone else’s success and, therefore, to create nothing that might create an echo of its own.

3. Remember when and why it all started

The fuel to keep going is simple yet elusive. My favorite passage in the entire article is Eugenides reminding the writers of why they started writing.

“When you started writing, in high school or college, it wasn’t out of a wish to be published, or to be successful, or even to win a lovely award like the one you’re receiving tonight.

It was in response to the wondrousness and humiliation of being alive.

Remember? You were fifteen and standing beside a river in wintertime. Ice floes drifted slowly downstream. Your nose was running. Your wool hat smelled like a wet dog. Your dog, panting by your side, smelled like your hat. It was hard to distinguish.

As you stood there, watching the river, an imperative communicated itself to you. You were being told to pay attention. You, the designated witness, special little teen-age omniscient you, wearing tennis shoes out in the snow, against your mother’s orders. Just then the sun came out from behind the clouds, revealing that every twig on every tree was encased in ice. The entire world a crystal chandelier that might shatter if you made a sound, so you didn’t. Even your dog knew to keep quiet.

And the beauty of the world at that moment, the majestic advance of ice in the river, so like the progress of the thoughts inside your head, overwhelmed you, filling you with one desire and one desire only, which was to go home immediately and write about it.”

That’s it. Every blog post I’ve written that was ever worth reading was a response to that overwhelming desire to describe…

“The majestic advance of ice in the river.”

And somewhere along the way, somewhere in 2012, I completely lost that wonder. Circumstances and stress may have had something to do with it but I’m sure there will always be opportunities for stress. I feel like it’s about time I once again started reacting to the magic around me.

And over time, I bet, the rest will add up too.

The magic will happen. The dots will connect.

As a wise soul once reminded us:

“Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.

Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.

And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

Filed under: About Mario Sundar, Best-of, Thoughts

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