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.
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.
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.