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.


9 thoughts on “Quora vs. Wikipedia – Q&A not effective in Social Media

  1. We really think alike on this matter Marcio. 🙂

    We are working on Ledface to try to solve these issues.

    Ledface has a very specific goal: to enable people to tap into collective intelligence to acquire know-how for solving their day-to-day problems. Think it as new kind of social network in which people interact with each other, not directly, but through an interface. People can ask questions and get answers from the collective intelligence. They don’t get a reply from John or Mary – the answer emerges from the interaction of many people co-creating that response in real time.

    We deeply believe that the next big thing is the unlimited potential of co-creation without ego and unleashing human collective intelligence.

    We don’t want to spam of course but may I suggest this post? 🙂


    1. I just read a few of the Ledface blog posts and found an amazing identification. I haven’t yet explored what Ledface is doing, but the ideas are right on. True collaboration requires us to leave Ego behind.

  2. Marcio (and Fred) – One question to consider is the motivation of the participants. So I ask, who is attracted to participate in Q&A type sites like Quora, Focus, LinkedIn Answers, etc vs. Wikipedia?

    (Also consider the conversation going on here. No direct question was asked but it elicits responses.)

    1. who is attracted, and what is the motivation?

      In Wikipedia there is no explicit glory for contributors, not smiley photos with big names at the top of the article. The motivation (I believe) is recognition among the smaller maintainer community. There is no or little commercial interest involved.

      I don’t understand Quora yet…

  3. You are mostly right, at least on the visible side of Quora — but by participating, you’ll realise that there is an opportunity to suggest edits and enter into a though process. Even more so, because you can only interact with someone’s answer, so there is always a named party in charge if you don’t want to be the self-sufficient expert who answers. One visible aspect, beyond transparent edits, is open strategies: several of my answers include speculation with the note “If an official answers, I’ll erase this.”
    What you describe would put, say, the extreme case of dead-tree publishing into the end of the non-participatory regime; yet, when you ask authors and editors, they would describe the book as a process and the publishing house a pandemonium of ideas. It’s more a case of in- and out- then platform, although each format has its capacity to let people in. As of now, Quora seems more accessible to outsiders than Wikipedia to me—but I haven’t been active there for quite some time.

    1. Good point on the openness of the process (not of the medium and medium format). Finding a balanced curation process is a challenge for anyone trying to aggregate community knowledge.

  4. Marcio – I think you bring up an interesting comparison between sites like Quora and Wikipedia. In a way, Quora does tend to be weighted towards people asking questions to which they already know the answer (I’ve noticed many that are really looking for validation more than anything else). There is also a lack of structure to the questions – aside from being a massive Q&A site that anybody can join, and where any question can be asked, there is no greater purpose that it provides its user community.

    This lack of purpose brings into question the validity to the response mechanism – no fact checking – no established content curation model – nothing that delivers an answer that is definitive and certainly no structure for finding the “right” information.

    On the other side, however, Quora does have some value in its free-form nature that allows multiple “trial” answers to a question to be evaluated by the questioner (or others). The downside (as I just wrote about in my last post that touched briefly on Quora) is that the open-format Q&A model is ripe for abuse and can easily be gamed by people intent of delivering an answer that best suits their own agenda.

    I’m not saying that Wikipedia is game-proof and 100% accurate (it isn’t), but I will agree that as it presently stands, I’d choose Wikipedia as a data source over Quora any day of the week.

    Nice post,

    Fred McClimans

    1. Thank you for the thoughtful and insightful comment. While I believe in what I wrote above, I do plan to invest more time to grok Quora. I think they are doing very interesting things.

      1. I would def take the time to dig in deeper to all of the various Q&A sites (Quora, Focus, StackExchange). While they each offer a slightly different type of value (or lack of) and each may be susceptible to being gamed (leading one to question their optimal use or value), they all offer some amazing insight into how crowd-sourced answers differ from wisdom-of-crowd.


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