Qui, Quae, Quora

A friend of mine at Quora invited me into their private beta a couple of weeks ago, and by now I suspect that many of you are using it–especially since I’ve somehow managed to be the top hit for [quora invite]. Speaking of which, I appreciate that those of you with spare invites have continued sharing them with the stream of folks requesting them.

Anyway, if you haven’t heard about Quora yet, here’s a summary from the site:

Quora is a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it.

For those of you who studied Latin, the title of this post hopefully triggers at least a faint memory of relative pronouns and declensions. It’s been suggested that “quora” is a faux-Latin plural of quorum, which in turn is the genitive plural of qui. A less arcane possibility is that quora is intended to evoke the modern-day meaning of “quorum”: a gathering of the minimum number of people of an organization to conduct business. Or perhaps “quora” is a contraction of question or answer, befitting a question-and-answer site.

How did I come up with all of these possibilities? Well, I did study Latin (semper ubi sub ubi!), but I found all of the above from the Quora entry entitled “What does Quora mean?” (membership required to view). Indeed, Quora is a great place to learn about Quora, as well as about Aardvark, Hunch, and other question-and-answer startups. Because it’s been launched as a private beta and virally marketed among friends, the community–and thus its interests–are highly skewed towards tech startups. Indeed, people seem more inclined to compare it to programmer-oriented site Stack Overflow than to Yahoo! Answers–which speaks volumes about the current user base.

All that said, is Quora a useful site? It certainly offers useful information, but that’s a pretty low bar–after all, the open web already offers lots of useful information. The better question is what Quora offers that the open web does not.

Indeed, the closed nature of the site puts it at a disadvantage to the open web: no links, search engine optimization, etc. That said, I also haven’t seen spam or any of the other abuse endemic to the open web.

In any case, I don’t see Quora as a knowledge base of first resort–except possibly to learn more about software startups. Whether by design or by virtue of its early membership, the site is a very narrow scope.

The more interesting value proposition of Quora is the community it is creating. Quora facilitates conversation, much like a members-only blog where everyone uses their real names. It’s a well-designed social site, and I like that it revolves around substantive topics.

But I worry that Quora faces a catch-22. If the focus stays narrow, I can’t imagine it creating enough utility to justify its $86M valuation. But it’s not clear that Quora can scale up to a broader scope. Given what I’ve seen of question-and-answer sites, I’m skeptical.

What Quora does have going for it is an all-star team, and I’m sure they have big plans for the site. I’m very curious to see what those plans are, and how they play out.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

13 replies on “Qui, Quae, Quora”

Daniel, I did hear about it some time ago, and comments were not that nice, as I see you are also not quite impressed with it.

I don’t know in details, because I am not into a beta yet, but from my experience any site that’s focused on providing or enriching collective intelligence via crowd sourcing, should know that it’s user after all who are empowering the system, and it’s decentralized, so trust should be established between them.

Any such site without introduction of game mechanics/ feedback coupled with in-site reputation system to motivate users to keep coming in and share knowledge, and maintain the quality of collection is surely betting on wrong end of crowd sourcing.


Ali, I think it’s a well executed site, but I have a hard time imagining how it can change the world without going broad. And I think the site has to change a fair amount to go broad and succeed. Not saying the folks at Quora can’t pull this off (it is an impressive team), but I’ll remain skeptical until I seem them do it.

BTW, if you want into the beta, ask some of the folks in this comment thread who have spare invites. Or look on Twitter.


Have you tried posting questions?

I find the most compelling aspect of Quora is the quality of the members. For the most part, I have received on point and specific answers from people who seem to know what they are talking about (or else my question has already been asked and answered well). Granted I’m asking “search” related questions, which IS the beta community.

So the big question, as you’re pointing out, is how do you preserve the quality of the community but scale? Or maybe you don’t need to?


Lecia, I haven’t posted questions, but I agree with you that the quality of the membership is a major asset. But I can’t imagine that Quora’s long-term strategy is to restrict its membership. Perhaps they can develop reputation mechanisms for filtering, sorting, etc. Still, I don’t know how Quora plans to scale without descending down the slippery slope to the cacaphony that tries to pass for community on the open web. If they know how to do it and can execute, then they’ll more than justify their valuation!


“$86M valuation”

On the face of it, I’d be asking if there was a French kid around that didn’t mind being a patsy, but their can be so many reasons for an investment that have absolutely nothing to do with the investment.

Young readers are encouraged to research Reaganomics to gain an understanding of the economic policies behind this bull shit.


“But I worry that Quora faces a catch-22. If the focus stays narrow, I can’t imagine it creating enough utility to justify its $86M valuation. But it’s not clear that Quora can scale up to a broader scope. Given what I’ve seen of question-and-answer sites, I’m skeptical.”

This is definitely a huge challenge for them. I believe D’Angelo’s response is that they want the feed to provide a narrow view of the site to each user. This controls for idiotic questions.

Idiotic answers is a different story. I think they want to emulate the Wikipedia model by allowing “community answers” (a few questions already utilize this). Hence, each additional answer to a question would act more like a comment on a blog, which are often higher in quantity, below the fold, and, in this case, not necessary to obtain your answer–because the community answer would suffice.

If the same principles as Wikipedia apply–in addition to keeping the community somewhat closed and spreading it virally starting with the SV elite–then they have a good chance of building a strong Q&A repository. The challenge then is recruiting the top people in disparate communities; medical, legal, finance, sports, entertainment, etc. How customer acquisition works for such a site is beyond me. I even asked what their plan is here:


Thanks for the analysis! I do like the “community answers” as a way to assure quality. But I’m curious how the “narrow view” approach will work for users. For example, I’m really glad that Wikipedia doesn’t restrict me to a narrow subset of topics. And, while I like Stack Overflow, I tend to stumble into it via Google, rather than explicitly searching it. Narrow is a tough sell when it’s so easy to search for information broadly. The exceptions are repositories with truly unique content–and I don’t think Quora is there. At least not yet.


The valuation is based on an $11 million round.
How far does $11 million go these day in the world of startups?
What kind of packages lure stars?

This seems to go against the belief of some, that startups don’t require much capital.


$11M goes pretty far. Main expense for a startup like this is employee salaries–and they don’t strike me as needing a large number of employees at this stage. As for luring stars, I suspect they’ll get folks who are more interested in working with Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever than in optimizing their near-term compensation.


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