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If enough people mention something on Twitter then I’m ultimately going to check it out. It happens with news stories and viral videos, and it happened a couple of days ago with Quora.

Quora is a new(ish) site that revolves around questions and answers. People ask questions, other people answer them. A fairly simple proposition.

Of course we’ve seen this kind of thing before with sites like Yahoo Answers, but Yahoo fundamentally failed to help people connect, whereas Quora has inbuilt networking by default (sign in via Twitter or Facebook to see what I mean). After all, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

It is perhaps most similar to LinkedIn Answers / Groups, but the difference is that it’s more fine-tuned, it’s dedicated to answers, it’s a bit more open, and I think the user interface is better (though, as with all sites, there is room for improvement). 

Quora automatically follows those who you follow on Twitter, and it has mirrored Twitter by using the ‘followers / following / @mentions’ labels. The answers you provide are aggregated in your own personal stream. Users can vote answers up and down, Reddit-style, and whoever asked the question can thank the respondents for their input. 

Quora already has an impressively influential user base, having launched just over a year ago. It spent the first half of 2010 in private beta and opened up to the public thereafter. This week it seems to have reached a tipping point and all manner of folks are signing up. 

It’s not going to be bigger than Twitter, despite what The Telegraph thinks, as it is too focused, too narrow. That's a good thing. What makes Twitter so enjoyable is the variety of content (informative, entertaining, outrageous, random, etc). The rules of engagement on Quora are somewhat more rigid. 

I love sites that are based entirely around user-generated content, largely because they’re authentic and real, but pollution will always occur to some degree or other. As with all UGC sites, spam can prove problematic, but the community has the tools to self-moderate.

Quora will be useful for all kinds of people, but specifically for those that buy into the idea of knowledge sharing and thought leadership (two of Econsultancy’s founding principles). It can be used by anybody who wants to help, to influence, to find answers.

If you’re about to give Quora a whirl then be prepared for a deluge of email notifications. You can turn these off, or try creating a rule to divert Quora emails away from the inbox and into a dedicated folder, as I have done.

It is fairly likely that we’ll see Adsense units appearing sometime soon, though Quora should focus on business services as a potential revenue stream. We have ‘Econsultancy Answers’ in the pipeline (it works in a similar way - sign in using Twitter, connect / follow, join groups, etc) but if there was a Quora API we would consider using it. All publishers with strong communities could have an ‘answers’ offering. Retailers too, when you think about it.

Anyway, if you're an active Twitter user and work in the internet industry it’s worth a look. In time it will become more mainstream.

You can follow me on Quora here.

[Image via Crunchbase]

Chris Lake

Published 5 January, 2011 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

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