Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The real-time web vs the new edifices of information

I've been having a play with Quora - a kind of wikipedia meets Yahoo Answers with a real-time spin that's suddenly got very hot.

There's some good social stuff going on, lots of instant connections being made - sign up through twitter and facebook and hook up with your pals for a festival of Q&A!

You get to ask and answer questions - the crowd gets to raise the profile of some questions over others (surfacing them to other folk).
Unfortunately, like so many others it's gone down the lowest-common-denominator route with its voting mechanic. Rather than surfacing questions that are useful and interesting to me and my friends, it simply surfaces what is interesting to the greatest single number of people.

This risks creating peaks of high intensity around lowest common denominator subjects (and there's no plan for dealing with the wikipedia-style rows over right and wrong yet when these peaks emerge) while leaving barren deserts of low interest because the only mechanic for surfacing what's interesting to YOU is to select from broad interest categories OR make a specific search. - on your own.

In other words it's missing the trick of socialising the surfacing of what is interesting to you AND your peers (and let's be clear, Twitter's trends continue to make the same mistake).

Even without this Quora remains interesting. While Twitter may be very effective as a human search engine (ie a place I can ask questions of my peers) it's not good at organising the responses or making them available much beyond real time.

Quora seeks to create an aggregate of the best info and retaining it for future reference:
"One way you can think of it is as a cache for the research that people do looking things up on the web and asking other people. Eventually, when you see a link to a question page on Quora, your feeling should be: "Oh, great! That's going to have all the information I want about that." It's also a place where new stuff--that no one has written about yet--can get pulled onto the web."
The team at Quora think this is important because while the web is full of info, most of it is not in a format that makes it useful to most.

Which is why Quora makes an ideal acquisition target for Google. (You probably didn't hear that here first).

But it's also its achilles heel. The people best placed to put information in a way that is best formatted for you are people who know you - your friends, your peers. Indeed 'best formatted for you' is a fluid thing better enabled by the real time web than is potentially the case with the edifices of information Quora is creating.

The most valuable content of all is the information you need right now delivered to you in a way you can best make use of. 

I guess we'll soon discover which is best placed to deliver that: The real-time web or the new edifices of information.
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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?