Quora, the latest crowd-sourced question-and-answer site, looks to compete with the likes of Aardvark, Ask.com, and Yahoo Answers. But how does this newcomer stack up against the more established players?
Signing up for Quora entails entering your name, e-mail address, and a password. You're also given what looks like the option of signing up using just your Facebook or Twitter account, but this is only to link those two social networks to your Quora account. Once registered, you can add a profile pic, find friends, and start following suggested topics.
Design & Interface
At the top of Quora's homepage is a text box that's used to both ask questions and look up answers. (Confusingly, the box to its right says "Add Question.") Below, the homepage features two columns: At the top of the main column are three tabs that let you browse Quora, answer questions, and view your notifications.
Below the tabs is your Feed, which is a bit like the Facebook newsfeed. It displays questions, answers, and topics you follow, open questions on Quora waiting for an answer, and notifications. Notifications (which you can also receive via e-mail) include updates about people who have recently started following you and new answers to questions that you follow. Quora also features pop-up notifications that appear under the search box when you first log in. The notifications are neat, but they can be overwhelming if you haven't logged in for a couple of days.
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A smaller column on the right shows you friends on Quora and Facebook, and lets you send a message to your followers. The content of the sidebar changes depending on what's in the main column. For example, when you click through to a question or topic in the main column, the sidebar displays related questions, gives you the option to follow the topic, lets you share the question via Facebook or e-mail, and displays stats, such as how many people have viewed the question.
Questions are organized by tags called Topics; for example, a question about an iPad app would have tags for Apple, iPad, and iOS. Each Topic has its own page with a wiki-style FAQ and settings to manage and organize the topic. Just as with questions, you can follow topics to receive updates via e-mail or on the site.
Overall, we found Quora's text-heavy design a bit overwhelming. Initially it seems easy enough to navigate, but the amount of text displayed, particularly on popular topic pages, quickly became too much. Other services, such as Yahoo Answers and Aardvark, offer more visual appeal and a balance between information and the UI.
If you want to find an answer (or ask a question) in Quora, type your question into the box at the top of the screen. Like Google, Quora makes suggestions as you type, helping you narrow your query. If your question doesn't appear--"What are the best-selling Air Jordans?", for example--you can submit it to the site, but not without jumping through a few hoops. The first time we clicked on "Add Question," Quora made us take a little quiz to make sure we knew how to properly format our query. It was a little annoying, but it only took a minute or two, and we never saw it again.
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Once our question was submitted, it got its own page, where we could tag it with new or existing topics (such as Michael Jordan, Nike, and Brands), add details, and provide an answer summary for visitors once our question was answered.
At the bottom of each question's page is a comment box where you can provide your own answer, customize text, link to related questions, topics, and people, and insert images into your answer. You can also opt to post questions and answers anonymously. In addition, Quora users can suggest edits to your answers, mark it as not helpful, or thank you for your answer (similar to "liking" a comment on Facebook). Answers can be voted up or down by users; more votes equals a higher appearance on the page, but there's no guarantee that the most popular answer is the best one.
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Of course, the quality and variety of answers depends on the community; although Quora has been around since 2009, it's still mainly populated by tech-savvy early adopters. As such, questions about technology, business, startups, and other closely related topics get the most attention (and answers); in fact, questions about Digg, Facebook, or Netflix will often be answered by higher-ups at those companies. However, if you're interested in other topics such as fashion or more general subjects, Quora may not be the best resource.
We like the concept of crowd-sourced information. However, Quora's relative newness means it lacks the breadth of information found in places such as Yahoo Answers--which has been around for 15 years--and Quora's interface is far less user-friendly. While those with tech-centric questions will probably find what they're looking for, those in search of more general information should ask elsewhere.