Will Quorans Develop Enough Spine to Ensure Quality?

On Quora, this question was recently asked:

Is the upvote bias towards more popular answerers a threat to quality on Quora?

One answer caught my attention, and it’s one with which I wholeheartedly agree:

I would say it’s very important for Quora users to use those voting powers to downvote answers by A-listers that are just not good enough. There is a LOT of expertise by practitioners now, it’s up to us to upvote knowledgeable answers and downvote answers without substance when they occur, regardless of how popular the responder might be.

This is a critical cultural element that must take hold in Quora for it to thrive. If it becomes an A-Lister’s club where everything they say is gold, well, the site will slowly die.

[tweetmeme source = “bhc3”]

I’m going to give two examples where A-Listers gave irrelevant, humorous answers to a discussion. In one case, it was on Quora. In the other, it was Hacker News. The outcomes are instructive.

Dave McClure on Quora

First, on Quora. There’s a question that asks, Which VCs and angels are investing in early stage, enterprise 2.0 companies? A number of VCs weigh in there. After a while, well-known angle investor Dave McClure added his own answer, a faux pandering to Enterprise 2.0 start-ups, which came across as mocking some of the other VCs’ answers. Funny? Sure. Meta commentary on the other answerers? Yup. Relevant to the original question? Not at all.

Yet check out the number of up votes it’s gotten:

Fortunately, the answer has been down-voted enough to fall from its #1 position. But it’s still the #4 answer of 17 provided. What’s with the 29 up-votes there?As a point of reference, imagine if you had written a similar answer. It would have been quickly buried at the bottom of the question with multiple ‘Not Helpfuls’.

This is not about Dave McClure, whose answer is very consistent with his personality. He’s a funny, smart guy. You’re always going to have some answers that aren’t helpful, it’s a fact of online life. But it is about the culture of the Quora community and the disconnect between the site’s objectives and the community’s actions.

Joshua Schachter on Hacker News

Let’s look at the case of the second A-Lister. On Hacker News, someone posted a story in the Wall Street Journal, Five Signs You’re a Bad Boss. First sign? “Most of your emails are one-word long.” That one includes an anecdote about a boss who was even worse – he wrote in single characters. Y for yes, N for no.

It hit the front page, and got a number of comments. Including one from Delicious founder Joshua Schachter (“joshu”) that was a humorous homage to that bad boss:

But check that out. Joshua was voted down by some power user on Hacker News. He actually has -1 points there. No immediate fawning, no appreciation for the humor of the A-Lister. Now in checking the answer several hours later, it has 3 points. So even Hacker News has some of that “A-Lister gets the benefit” element.

Overall, these two examples offer a clear distinction in culture between Quora and Hacker News. Hacker News continues to grow, and includes Fred Wilson as a fan:

I use techmeme, hacker news, tim o’reilly’s twitter links, dave winer’s 40 most recently links for tech news

Developing the culture that will mercilessly ding a poor or irrelevant answer regardless of source is critical to Quora. Learn to love the downvote, otherwise Quora becomes a graveyard of dead questions.

[tweetmeme source = “bhc3”]


About Hutch Carpenter
Chief Scientist Revolution Credit

2 Responses to Will Quorans Develop Enough Spine to Ensure Quality?

  1. Pingback: Will Quorans Develop Enough Spine to Ensure Quality? | SiliconANGLE

  2. Paul says:

    Quora illustrates two big issues with crowdsourcing.

    One is the “popularity contest” issue you mention here. There are numerous questions where the highest ranked answer is not the best, but from an acknowledged thought-leader / a-lister. They gain votes on reputation, not on quality or value of the response. The easy way to fix this is to hide the identity of the poster until the question is closed and eliminate reputation bias.

    The second, and perhaps even bigger issue, is that the crowd often lacks the knowledge or experience to know what the best answer is. In these cases, naive readers come across the question and perceive the top-voted answers to be fact, and it wouldn’t matter if the correct answer was posted, by an a-lister or a d-lister. The poor answer with the most up-votes becomes the “common knowledge” by default.

    For Quora to achieve quality that makes it more than a place to gain Klout points, it needs to develop a mechanism to filter out questions which are better answered by an expert versus those where an expert’s opinion is no better than anyone else’s (good Quora questions).

    I occasionally use Quora and find useful information there, but more often use it as a last resort because of the high degree of false information and puffery parading as fact.

    Using the downvote is important, but it isn’t enough.

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