First there was Wikipedia and now there is Quora.
On January 15, 2011, Wikipedia celebrated it's 10 year birthday, and according to Bloomberg Businessweek, it now has more than 17 million entries (compared with only 120,000 for Encyclopedia Britannica) in 250 languages and is one of the most visited sites on the Internet. Moreover, the accuracy of the crowd-sourced Wikipedia has generally been found as good as traditional encyclopedias.
But despite the phenomenal growth of Wikipedia, a new site, Quora is finding a place for itself in online knowledge management, as one of the key question and answer (Q&A) destinations of the web (others being Answers.com, Yahoo Answers, and more--which were apparently found lacking by the founders of Quora).
According to Wired (May 2011), Quora is only 2 years old and already has about 200,000 people visiting the site each month. The approach of Quora is to create a searchable knowledge market based on merging verifiable facts with people's personal experiences and observations or what Wired calls "the large expanse between...the purely objective [e.g. Wikipedia] and the purely subjective [e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.]."
Quora is looking to capture what it believes is the "Ninety percent of information people have [that] is still in their heads and not on the web."
The site is also creating a community of people who participate in asking and answering questions, and can select to follow topics and people of interest, and vote on whether answers are helpful ("voted up") or not to push answers up or down the page.
Similar to Wikipedia, answers can be "trimmed, corrected, or otherwise massaged by one of the rigorous volunteers" (of which their are now more than 100--Quora only has 18 employees). Answers are "written for the world, and for anyone who has that same question for the rest of time." And even questions can get "extensively reworded."
Wired asks is this just another popularity contest on the web or self-promotion for the self-proclaimed experts? One of the volunteers responds that "This isn't about job searching. It's not about raising money. Most of us who are heavy users can already do that without help. It's a sense of sharing what we now, and it's being part of a community."
Of course, while critics may call them pedantic or petty, the Quora participants are on a mission to build a vital and timeless knowledge repository--"the modern-day equivalent to the Library of Alexandria", so perhaps the people chic has to be balanced with information usability.
On January 21, 2011, Tech Crunch awarded Quora "best new startup for 2010."
It will be interesting to see where this goes...the funny thing for me was that I ended looking up Quora up in Wikipedia. :-)