Katherine Boehret over at The Wall Street Journal is out with a review of the hot new early adopter Q&A site this morning, Quora.
Although the Journal calls the site "uninviting, geeky and poorly explained," after spending a fair amount of time on the site over the past few weeks, I think the site really is the real deal. What makes Quora work, I think, is largely that they have been able to pull in a large number of intelligent insightful experts on a wide range of topics. Some of the questions are fun, like "Which is better; The Wire or The Sopranos?" (I've got the top answer there now and of course we all know that The Wire was better -- Omar Little is arguably the best character ever to appear on television) -- other questions are more serious.
As far as the more serious questions go, I'm very impressed with both the quality of questions and answers that I'm seeing around photography related topics especially. You can find the photography category on Quora here and check out some of the questions and answers for yourself. Here you can find questions like "What are the must-have lenses for a Canon DSLR?" (my favorite Canon lens the 135 f/2.0 L gets some love there). Another question is "What's a good bag for amateur photographers?" Another user asks "Who are the best concert photographers?"
Users can read submitted answers and if they like an answer they can vote it up (with the little triangles next to the answer). If they don't like an answer they can vote it down.
I was particularly impressed with Quora's insight into the photosharing world. There is a whole category devoted to photosharing as well as a category devoted to Flickr itself. Several former Flickr employees (including co-founder Stewart Butterfield and former Flickr Engineering Chief Cal Henderson) as well as some current Flickr staffers have participated on the site.
Former Flickr engineer Kellan Elliott-McCrea is the top ranked Flickr answerer so far, largely based on all the upvotes he got on his revealing answer to the question "Why did Flickr miss the mobile photo opportunity that Instagram and picplz are pursuing?" As a former insider, Elliott-McCrea paints a picture of Flickr mobile innovation being held back by Yahoo Corporate politics. Writes Elliott-McCrea:
"Lastly, Marco Boerries was the without a doubt one of the most viciously political, and disliked Yahoo! execs and he reigned for 4 years over the Yahoo "Connected Life" team which had universal control over all native mobile experiences within Yahoo. Several Flickr internal attempts to build and ship native mobile experiences (going back to 2006) were squashed relentlessly. The Flickr iPhone app that eventually shipped was built by CL."
On a personal level I really enjoy interacting with other users in the Flickr section about Flickr. I've been banned by Flickr for over a year now from the Flickr Help Forum where similar questions are answered on Flickr. It's nice being able to participate in less censored forums about Flickr where Flickr can't censor what users have to say as it's off of their service.
I think it's largely the quality of the answers and the early adopters on Quora that are responsible for it's success in the Q&A world where other companies haven't seen as much growth or traction recently. Ask.com, Facebook Questions, Yahoo Answers, Hunch, and several other services have tried various approaches to the Q&A structure, but I have not found any of these to be as compelling an experience or as personally useful as Quora.
In addition to reading questions and answers (and voting them up or down) any registered user can also try their hand at answering a question or asking an entirely new question. Users can also choose to follow other users like most other social networks and a recent activity stream shows the most recent actions on the questions that you are following.
All in all I'm super impressed with what I've seen from this young new company. I suspect we are only seeing the beginning with Quora and that the number of questions and quality of answers will only improve over time. Hopefully they are not quickly acquired by some bigger fish. The site was started by two former Facebook employees and this is just the type of company that I can see Facebook trying scoop up.