Every so often I go on a Quora answering binge. It generally arises out of a deeply felt need to troll the hell out of people on subjects that I have little first hand knowledge of. Currently, my most popular answers are on the subjects of children and parenting. I am not a parent. I am probably still a child. My least popular answers are on the subjects of law and politics. Clearly I should be sticking to the things I don’t know.
Ultimately, I’ve come to the conclusion that Quora isn’t about Q&A, it’s about creating a conversation. About fomenting debate on a broader scale. I find it deeply satisfying.
You don’t start a blog without a certain degree of arrogance. I write because I enjoy it, but I publish because I think my opinions are worth considering. It’s entirely possible that they aren’t, but we’ve got 20+ subscribers damn it, so clearly we’re on to something HUGE. But blogging is a lonely business. Often you feel like you publish out to the great yonder without making a real impact. We often get 250+ views on an article (not bad for a few months of screeds), but we fail at creating a dialogue (unless Jamil is raging on bicyclists). We love it when people comment, but often the substance stops at the end of the post.
I like Quora because it’s an opportunity to put a thoughts into the public sphere with immediate feedback. A lot of my answers are a polite trolling with an ulterior motive of providing advice – I don’t care what you say, Sun Tzu is clearly applicable to the art of love. I quite enjoy seeing people interact with atypical answers to questions. It’s an opportunity to hone my writing style and unravel how people think about subjects normally left undiscussed (politics, relationships, legal quandaries, etc.). I’m not sure I can get this type of direct information anywhere else.
I’m also fascinated by the people with whom I come into contact through Quora. I love the hell out of my Silicon Valley bubble, but I’ll confess to being a bit curious about broader swath of America. As much as I enjoy a bit of groupthink, there’s something compelling about confronting thoughts and perspectives radically different from my own. People within the Valley often agree upon the fundamentals (technology is good, free flow of human capital is good, innovation is good, etc.), and debate often centers on the degree to which a particular view may be pressed (x-platform is critical, no it’s merely necessary!).
Quora moves me beyond the bubble. It lets me dabble in debate with folks I don’t know or even understand. It expands the discourse and my understanding of the subjects I take an interest in. Honest debate is a lost art in the US of A. For all of our emphasis on free speech, we seem to engage in the exchange of ideas on remarkably rare occasions. I’ve found my most interesting debates about American politics are with foreign nationals, not my fellow citizens. I’m not sure if it is a concern about political correctness or a general aversion to confrontation. In either case, Quora fulfills a need within me to argue, to explore and to understand how people think.
I’ve only answered about 10 questions, and I’ll admit to dropping in and out of the system over the last few months, but there’s something there. Many lamented when it moved beyond the Valley to include people from different walks of life, but I welcome it. The idea that there can be a social network based upon discourse excites me. It’s like an affinity network for the opinionated. I’ve got thoughts, and I’m glad other people do too.
Of course, mine are better than theirs.
JM: You had me at affinity network. But beyond that, Quora, and its more arch-geek cousin Reddit, deliver an extraordinary value to keeping a population not only informed, but actively discussing and digesting information. The marketplace of ideas that forms the basic assumption of a democratic system requires us to actively form responses to information, to share our opinions, instead of merely passively intaking and regurgitating. This article is a great reminder to stop lurking, and start speaking.