When I first started using Quora, I was attracted to the sleek interface and simple aesthetics. Like many people, I didn’t start to post immediately. I haunted the pages every now and again, until I felt that I “got it” enough to dive in. I loved the way that my questions and answers were centralized and my activity was logged. I loved that I existed on there as an entity, in one central location. This was something that I never got from other question and answer sites. Most of all, I loved that there were ways to score.
No, definitely not the way you’re thinking.
As a psychological incentive, users on the site are awarded “Quora Credits” for writing good questions or answers. There’s a lot of talk on Quora about these credits, what they represent, and whether or not there should be a system of up and down voting at all. Most of this debate stems from an outspoken core group of individuals proclaiming that – indeed – all of that is just nonsense. One should not require any “goodies” (digital or otherwise) for asking or answering questions, and doing so should be respected as something sacred, pure, and incorruptible. Getting “points” for your thoughts is, well, just wrong.
Of course they’re probably right. The sharing of human knowledge has been the cornerstone of most philosophies concerned with living the good life. This fact does not go unnoticed by this author – I spend most days scanning the front feed of Quora simply reveling in not only how much I can learn, but how much some people already know. Just the other day I learned Quora makes you smarter, no doubt – but it also makes you realize how far you’ve yet to go. (Here’s a great example)
But there is this other facet of the pursuit of knowledge that propels us toward something different. Something that makes it seem okay to entertain the concept of creating hierarchies for questions and answers, and awarding points for a job well done. This thing – the thirst for the sport of knowledge – is exactly what Quora serves to satisfy. Yes – I absolutely believe in disseminating knowledge in any way that I can (for a smarter planet is most definitely a better one), but there is another part of me that wants to say, “let’s see what you’ve got!” There is yet another part of me that wants to be awarded (after long last) for the thankless hours I have spent in my life reading or thinking while others were at monster truck rallies, Pat Benatar concerts, or all you can eat buffets. Isn’t it just a little nice to have a venue where our little obsessive bits of genius are not only respected – but rewarded?
Yes, I could give a TED talk or edit a Wikipedia page. The former has too many barriers to entry and the latter is just well…to obscure most of the time. What can I say? I’m human. I’ll keep trying to be smart for smart’s sake. But it doesn’t hurt to be awarded some imaginary credits for my insights every now and again.
Are there deficiencies with the current system? Absolutely. Celebrities and super-users can get upvoted so rapidly and so much that they often bury other (at times more formidable) answers. But for all of its shortcomings, it’s difficult to imagine a system that is better at identifying the best minds in any given topic area (without involving ivory-tower editors or a council of elders).
Perhaps most important is the fact that credits and upvotes tend to incrementally decrease in utility over time. For instance, I could not tell you how many credits I have right now – nor do I really care. I also don’t think too much about whether or not a question gets the cascade of upvotes that I’ve been looking for. More and more, it’s the responses to my questions and answers that has me coming back. I can happily say that I’ve formed some amazing relationships with those that I’ve followed on the site.
That’s now though. At first, yeah…I wanted the goodies. If that’s what it takes to get someone on the site, then so be it. The more minds floating around the hallowed halls of Quora, the better.
The point is this – if you’re reading this right now, odds are that you’ve got some interesting knowledge banging around in your head. Or some really great questions that Google just can’t answer for you. If this is the case, how about setting up an account on Quora and dropping some knowledge on our ignorant craniums? Don’t forget to follow me first.