Quora vs. Wikipedia – Q&A not effective in Social Media

Quora’s Q&A format is interesting, but Knowledge aggregation will continue to happen in places like Wikipedia

A friend of mine asked me a couple of days ago… “I observe a lack of inquiry in SM, have you noticed that?  There are a lot of statements, positions.  Not so much inquiry”.

Yes, that is true. Partially, it is because many use social media as a broadcast channel. But there is a more profound reason why explicit questions don’t emerge as often in Social Media.

The classical media generation learns in introspection. When we communicate and interact, it is to exchange knowledge. I tell you what I have learned before, I learned from what you did. Q&A is the mechanism that drives that exchange.

In Social Media, conversations are less exchange and more interaction

In Social Media, communication are less exchange and more interaction. Social Media (as well as direct rich interaction in real life) differentiates from Classical Media by allowing collective knowledge and idea co-creation.

While Q&A can still be useful, making incomplete statements with an open mind is more conducive for collaborative participation. The idea is to expose thoughts before they are well-formed and let others influence it.

Are you hot or what?

Marshall McLuhan stated that different media invite different levels of participation. So, for example, a movie or a realistic painting invites passive immersion and absorption, they are complete or “hot”. A video-game or abstract painting requires the active participation of the audience to convey the message, they are open or “cool”.

Accordingly, a question asks for well-thought answers in hot language. Open thoughts invite participation by others and co-creation. Social Media dialogs use cool language.

Time will tell, but I am more Wikipedia than Quora

Why did the Open Source Software movement or Wikipedia became so successful leveraging the Internet and Social Media to aggregate knowledge? In my opinion, it is because they were able to primarily harness collaboration in an open environment.

I have not spent enough time in Quora to claim full understanding. But the current content is more answer- than question-driven. Questions are just the excuse for people to express their personal, well-formed positions. Yes, there are efforts in creating collaborative, wiki-like mechanisms, but the “choose the best of several” dynamics is still dominant

I am very skeptical of a Q&A format effectively harnessing the power of Social Media to aggregate and express collective knowledge. Time will tell, but my bet is that if I want to ask a question, I will type it in the search box. And invariably, the best answer will be in Wikipedia, not in Quora.

Analyzing is more than just Counting

In the past few days, I’ve had several great conversations in different forums that happened to share a common thread. “Is it possible or useful to analyze unstructured social data?”

I argue that it is possible, but it might not be useful. Let’s start with Analysis.

Analysis should be:

  • Abstract – detached intellectual process based on a model of understanding, by definition simpler than the messy reality
  • Objective – data-centric, fact-based. Does not involve opinion, beliefs, or inference

Analyzing something is gaining understanding of reality by taking it apart based on a simplified model that (hopefully) captures the essence of the subject.

Sentiment Analysis

One of the forums of discussion was about terms like “Socialytics” and “Sentiment Analysis”, in the context of trying to analyze conversations (or “unstructured interactions”) in Social Media.

We are not arguing about the structured meta data (place, time, participants, frequency, etc). We are talking about the real content of conversations.

To analyze, one needs to have a model of understanding. The crudest analytical model of understanding is: “I don’t understand, therefore it doesn’t exist”.

I agree that “sentiment” can be positive or negative or neutral (a valid model) and counting occurrences can give us some measure of the general average “sentiment”. Therefore interpreting content as positive/negative/neutral, in this context, can be called “Analysis”. But it feels to me almost as crude of a model as the crudest.

In my opinion, this model does not capture the essence of human interactions and opinions.

Social Business is not Statistical

Is reducing human interactions to uni-dimensional metrics truly useful? My analytical left-brain say yes, it is useful.

But I am cautious following that reflex. Social Business is about relationships, engaging with each person leveraging Social Media.

The risk is applying old patterns of averages and metrics to customer relationships and falling deeper into the meaningless excessive analysis of the past. Reducing conversations to “positive/negative” is ignoring they exist as individual human interactions.

Social Business models are exactly the attempt to get out of that hole.

The future is about analyzing less (or at least using models that more closely resemble the reality of human relationships). There is no shortcut to engagement. Let’s resist accepting the reductionist view that counting is the same as understanding.

Can Old Dogs Learn Social Business Tricks?

There is broad consensus (at least among industry observers, vendors, consultants, analysts…) that companies need to become more “social” to remain competitive in the next years.

“Social”,  in this case, mean many different things but generally is the business response to both generational behavioral changes and adoption of social technologies, including social media, with its peculiar characteristic of transferring control from corporations to customers.

More tangibly, companies will need to be more open, transparent, collaborative and less hierarchical, segmented, structured. Employees need to be empowered and in tune with the company mission and the customer perspective. Customers have more choice and voice and more influence in business directions.

Business Change is an Evolution

I’ve learned that business change is always evolutionary, but it sometimes requires revolutionary or disruptive thinking to get started. This is one of those moments. There is a visible and gap between business discourse and practice.

Assuming that the vision of Social Business is correct (I am a believer), how are changes going to unravel? Are businesses going to have the time and disposition to gradually transform themselves? Or is it going to be primarily a process of new organizations out competing and replacing old ones?

It is, of course, both. But it is very hard for established organizations to change. Culture is a result of strong leadership. Leadership is projected by people with strong convictions. Strong convictions are strong convictions.

Focus on the Puppies

So, I think the business “changes” we see coming in the next decade are going to be more of the new company replacing old companies. It will take years. But it will happen.

What does that mean to advisors and technology vendors? Is it fair to even ask companies to change? Or should companies continue to optimize and get every bit of efficiency and leverage from their current non-social business models?

I think Social Business has to start small. We need to validate the new, more social, business models before we apply them in large-scale. Change starts from the bottom up.

Twitter and I. Our first Anniversary

Not Love at First Sight

I met Twitter for the first time a year ago today.  I was not particularly impressed after our first interaction. I don’t think Twitter was either. It did not talk back to me.

I could not have predicted then that a year later it would take such an important role in my work, the way I learn, how I interact with the world.

Like Direct Interaction

Twitter is the communication medium that most closely models direct human interaction in the real-world. Better than any other media we used in the past.

  • You can say anything you want. Want to express your political views? Tell the world what you had for dinner? There is a tweet for that. You have open access to the medium.
  • Want people to listen to what you say? That is a different story. You must be interesting. There is no guarantee that anything you say will be heard or even acknowledged. It is a recipient-discretion medium.
  • Like in the real world, you can communicate more effectively if you make the effort to build a relationship first. Communication is personal again.
  • If you are really smart, you can talk without listening. But that will only take you so far. Like in real conversation, others have an opportunity to respond and influence your thoughts in real-time, as you articulate your ideas.

Difficult but Rewarding

It is not an easy relationship. I have been trained to use the print medium to learn and express knowledge. I am not used to give people the opportunity to react to my arguments before I have polished and made them unassailable. I grew up thinking I should be introspective, read about what I don’t and write about what I do know, not that I should learn by interacting and co-creating new ideas with others.

But I am growing more comfortable not depending on the classic protocols (“You should know, I sent you an e-mail yesterday”). My views are more ephemeral, not based exclusively on my analysis, but sensitive to the ideas of people I interact with. I am happy with this different way of learning.

Loving it the way it is

I love Twitter the way it is, as a transport medium for interaction. The accidental 140-characters post size (which, the story goes, was set to make it SMS-friendly) imposes the limits that keeps it simple and general-purpose.

But I don’t think direct use of Twitter will ever become mainstream. Even the early adopters of Twitter today don’t do it. I happen to use Hootsuite, which is still a very primitive interaction tool above the Twitter transport layer.

The risk is that the makers of Twitter need to transform it from a communication platform into an interaction tool because of the pressures of survival as a company.

I’ve written about this before (“The Twitterfeed is Dead“). Let others develop new front end applications. Social CRM vendors are applying Twitter feeds to business processes. Paper.li and Flipboard are creating automated curation tools. Tweetdeck and equivalents are creating dashboards for Social Media professionals. We are just starting in that wave of innovation.

I suppose Twitter (the company) is thinking hard how to make Twitter (the platform) viable and sustainable in the long-term. But I think we, loving users of Twitter, have to think about that as well.

It is our first anniversary. Of many others to come.

Focus on Mission, Deliver Customer Experience

I have recently written about how moving to a social business model requires us to shift our thinking on metrics and accountability. My argument has been that metrics need to reflect the real business impact (the example was Customer Service being credited for new business because it was result of referrals by happy customers).

But partial metrics and extrinsic incentives (goal setting, management by objectives, accountability) is not the best way to coax workers to perform knowledge-based tasks (i.e. anything that requires more than just motor skills) and deliver what customers need. There is a great TED talk by Dan Pinker (via @berkson0)on that specific subject.

So how are we going to drive business with less reliance on analytical metrics and personal accountability?

The Customer Perspective

I once heard Michael Fauscette (from IDC) use this example during a conference session. He asked “What is the mission of an airline carrier?” Is it to fly airplanes? Is it to fly airplanes on schedule? Is it to fly airplanes as efficiently as possible?

Yes, airlines do those things every day, but they are internal aspects of the business. The true mission of airlines (from a customer’s perspective) is to offer safe and comfortable transportation from point A to point B. The true measure of the business is the quality of the air traveller’s experience.

Zappo’s, the online shoe retailer (now part of Amazon.com) became a reference for good customer experience. It understood that it is not in the shoe business (they don’t design or make them, their shoes are the same you can find in other stores). Zappo’s business is to create an environment where I can select and buy shoes and then have them delivered to me, in a stress-free shopping experience.

So tell me, What is new?

I can see the rolling eyes, we have heard all the above before. Why do we need to keep talking about it?

The reason: most businesses, including successful ones, fail that test.

We grew accustomed to decomposing the mission and assigning partial goals to people in our organization. We went too far on segmentation and specialization. A front-line agent who doesn’t know or worries about internal metrics cannot stay focused on the customer experience.

The broad adoption of Social Media by consumers and business in the next years will bring a world where new customers are acquired through indirect (mediated by social media venues) or direct (like in the old times) word-of-mouth and referrals from happy customers instead of traditional broadcasting marketing methods.

The Customer Experience (and perspective) will matter more

So to survive, companies will need to focus on their essential mission (from the perspective of their customers) and empower their employees to deliver it well. Happy customers bring their friends. You need to know who they are and what they want to keep them happy.

Does everyone in your organization know what it is that customers want from your company? Are employees emotionally involved in delivering on the mission?

They better be. The world is changing.

2010 in review

This is an automated analysis of my blogging at MarcioSaito.com in 2010.

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,100 times in 2010. That’s about 5 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 70 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 73 posts. There were 121 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 15mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was May 19th with 56 views. The most popular post that day was The World Has Changed – Evolve Video.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, twitter.com, linkedin.com, hootsuite.com, and mail.yahoo.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for caipirinha, good metaphors, marcio saito, terere, and tereré.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


The World Has Changed – Evolve Video May 2010


Making Caipirinha August 2010


Good Metaphors are Truth October 2010


Drinking Tereré July 2010


Climbing Mt. Shasta May 2010