The first part of this series is available here: Is Quora the Next Wikipedia? Part I.
I’m not persuaded that Quora is necessarily an attempt to displace Wikipedia, but I do believe it was designed to emulate aspects of “the encyclopedia anyone can edit” that make sense for Quora while trying a different approach. Mike Arrington has said that Quora is about creating a “better” Wikipedia, but it isn’t clear just yet that its approach is actually better. In some ways, I’ll bet it’s worse.
But before we compare the pluses and minuses of each model, let’s first consider the ways in which Quora consciously follows Wikipedia’s lead.
First and foremost, Arrington and company aren’t making the comparison to Wikipedia without a strong hint from the site itself. Indeed, calling Quora a “Q&A website” is a bit like saying Bill Simmons is a “sportswriter”; no one will say you’re wrong, but that misses the bigger picture. And Quora doesn’t hide its ambitions; the very first paragraph of its About page declares:
“Quora is a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it. The most important thing is to have each question page become the best possible resource for someone who wants to know about the question.”
Except for the “question” part, that sounds a heck of a lot like Wikipedia. A few paragraphs later:
“People use Quora to document the world around them. Over time, the database of knowledge should grow and grow until almost everything that anyone wants to know is available in the system.”
Other Quora policies clarify that, yes, you may ask easy questions and, yes, you may ask questions you already know the answer to. How else could the system grow to encompass virtually everything under the sun?
Based on the above and nothing more, I’d say one could describe Quora as a “reverse Wikipedia”: rather than presenting a set of facts on a general topic answering many hypothetical questions, as Wikipedia does, Quora wants to organize the same information around very non-hypothetical questions.
Read a little further into Quora’s list of policies and the hints go from “strong” to “explicit”. Asked about spelling and capitalization, Quora punts:
“When possible, use Wikipedia as a guide. … For things that Wikipedia doesn’t provide a model for, try to use the same pattern that Wikipedia uses for similar things.”
The same goes for naming topics:
“When there is controversy over a topic’s name, we generally prefer Wikipedia’s conventions.”
Asked about limits on acceptable user behavior, Quora policy states:
“Users are also not allowed to post content or adopt a tone that would be interpreted by a reasonable observer as [list of horribles]. This policy is based on Wikipedia’s policy on harassment.”
A related guideline points to Wikipedia’s policy on personal attacks. One can call it copy-catting, but I’d say it shows respect for the thought and effort Wikipedia’s contributors have put into the challenges of categorization and cultivation of community.
And there is more still. While Quora remains in the early stages of development, its creators have already declared some future plans. One is something no other Q&A site has attempted, and that is introducing a preferred format for citing sources. It’s currently quite primitive, and I have not much seen them much in use, but their intentions are clear. Quora policies allow that citations are optional, but promises their use will be rewarded:
A good reason [to use the format] is that when/if Quora adds real footnote support, footnotes following these guidelines will be automatically converted.
So far, Quora has proven to be extraordinarily well thought out. Of course they’ve had considerable help, but to their credit they’ve certainly nodded in the direction of their inspiration.
Now that we’ve established that Quora is indeed a lot like Wikipedia, we still need to analyze how the two platforms differ. Then we can discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each. And that’s my next post.
If you are so inclined, you may follow me on Quora.