Why Quora is in Trouble

Looking back just a few months ago, I used to think Quora was one of the most promising social networks I’d come across in a long time. The Q&A site had somehow succeeded in drafting very interesting members, which often made great contributions. I couldn’t understand some people’s skepticism, and was sure it would vanish if they gave the site its chance.

But now, I’m starting to think the skeptics were right. Even though all the things that made the site’s success are still present, it seems like all the excitement has gone away. Here’s what I think are the main causes.

It’s not the next big thing anymore

The new kid on the block

For a long time, Quora was the next big thing, but that all came to a stop the day Google+ appeared. The early adopters crowd is not a faithful one, and they’ve already moved on to the hipper, younger, prettier site.

People like to ponder if Google+ will turn out to be a Facebook killer, but smaller social networks have probably more to fear than Facebook. After all, there’s only so much hours in a day that can be wasted idly browsing timelines, and it seems to me far more likely that people will get rid of Quora before they sacrifice Facebook.

It doesn’t solve a problem

Quora’s problem is that it has no problem. To solve, that is.

Facebook solves the problem of how to stay in contact with your 250 “friends”. Twitter solves… well, ok, Twitter didn’t solve any real problem, but has still grown to become extremely useful. But can Quora do the same? You might say that since Quora is a Q&A site after all, it solves the problem of answering your questions. But a closer look at the content shows that it’s actually a lot closer to a message board – just one where every topic title is phrased as a question.

And if you just want a practical answer to a practical question, there are other sites that will prove more effective.

Put it another way: would you be willing to pay a monthly subscription for Quora? I’m willing to bet the answer will be “no” for most people, but that it might be different for, say, Stack Overflow.

It’s no fun to use

Rounded corners and a gradient? On the same button?!

A lot of good things has been said about Quora’s great design, and people like to rave about how functional it is. And it’s true, Quora is very usable and well thought-out, and there are a lot of small details that contribute to the overall user experience.

But it’s no fun at all to use. The site is visually bland: there’s barely any color or images, and you won’t find any effect fancier than rounded corners. And there are no special interactions or animations to be found, nor any badges, points, karma, or other gaming mechanisms.

Social networks are the place people go when they have too much time on their hands. Thanks to apps, photos, and casual games, it’s very easy to lose yourself in Facebook. I’m not saying Quora needs to add Farmville, but right now using it feels like doing your taxes. In a very efficient and functional manner, to be sure, but still not much fun.

It’s not that interesting

And finally Quora’s biggest problem: it gets far less interesting after a few months of use. The site will serve you up the same topics and the same people day after day, and although it might suggest new people to follow, it won’t suggest new topics.

This is a classic consequence of designing a social network around “warrens” rather than “plazas”: after a while people become locked in their own little communities, and the lack of new blood leads to a slow decay, and eventually death, as all the interesting people just “evaporate”.

The results is that if like me you joined Quora for its great startup-related content, your timeline is probably filled with questions like “How many employees does Airbnb have?”, which frankly, I don’t care a damn about. And since the startup community is still the most active on Quora by far, other topics will more often than not be drowned in the tech flood.

What should Quora do?

That’s a good question. If only there was a Q&A site where you could ask it!

But seriously, I think if Quora wants to survive it has to move away from it’s Q&A roots, and embrace its de-facto status as a kind of tech world Reddit. Quora has a great community, but it needs to be re-energized. Maybe a redesign is the way to go?

It also desperately needs to break down some of those internal walls, and make people venture out of their warrens. I might not care one bit about gardening, but if some question about the best way to kill slugs got 234 answers, then show it to me and make me care. I’m sick of  reading about how many employees AirBnB has (by the way, it’s 130).

About Me

I'm Sacha Greif, a web designer freelancing out of Paris, France. You can check out my portfolio, and of course you should follow me on Twitter.

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