Over the last 3 months there has been a lot of noise and debate about Quora and other Q&A social media platforms, are they going to be the next big thing? So we thought we’d take a closer look …
The concept of online Q&A is not a new one. Yahoo Answers has existed for many years, but quality has been an issue; forums are also well established, but can be verbose and stray “Off Topic”. Wikipedia has developed as the most credible socially curated knowledge base.
The current opportunity would seem to be to apply social media tools to “turbo charge” online Q&A. Ask the community a question and get an answer, or a stream of answers tailored to the specific question you, the user, has posed. The process is collaborative, answers are rated so the service becomes more than just a knowledge base, but have the potential for all users to gain perspective, understanding and insight on an array of subjects.
A number of players have gained prominence during 2010 and look set to grow further in 2011. Quora, launched at the end of 2009, the user base is small but includes names such as Daniel Ek, founder of Spotify, and Werner Vogels CTO of Amazon are amongst the many well-informed contributors. In contrast Formspring, which launched around the same time, has experienced rapid growth with a “ask me anything” mantra. A third name to conjure with is Stack Overflow, intended initially for programmers to share tips, but has fuelled its growth via separate topic-specific sites covering everything from cookery to photography.
The challenges are to balance quality on the one hand with usability and scale on the other. Quora has been obsessive about quality but some argue, for instance, emphasis on correct punctuation and grammar in posing questions detracts from the immediacy of social media and does not address the real issue of encouraging questions that will stimulate genuine insight over simply fact-based knowledge. Conversely, Formspring, which has pursued more aggressive growth has been criticized for its decision to allow users to pose questions anonymously, many feel has resulted in cyber bullying.
Are Quora and the like going to be the next big thing? In some ways it depends on how useful they become to individuals and business.
The concept of collaborative Q&A is established, doing this in real time is where it becomes interesting. Facebook , Twitter and location based social networks have established ‘real time’ activity. Applying the Q&A format provides structure to this.
Benefits to the individual are fairly obvious, provide insight, connect with a wider network by ranges of topics and an opportunity at some levels to demonstrate your expertise and knowledge in areas (it could be a natural extension to your linked in profile).
For business, there is a role to play in supporting customer services with more intelligent realtime replacement for FAQ’s. They enable brands to address questions directly, but also benefit from the contributions of independent individuals many of whom are consumers that offer the benefit of impartial brand advocacy. Formspring, used by Fiat Brazil, and Get Satisfaction, used by EasyJet, are two good examples of services that can easily plug in to a brand’s site, blog or social network.
Finally an area to watch is the role Q&A social media community’s start to influence search results, particularly with Google’s growing emphasis on social search.
Certainly an area to watch in 2011.
Author – Andy Edwards