Life imitates art imitates life?

Talk about “ripped from today’s headlines” … here’s an excerpt I was just editing last night from, my comic novel-in-progress. The scene’s set on a discussion forum that’s modeled after Hacker News:

startup founder: is like Quora meets Foursquare with questions guys want to know about.  and game mechanics.
tech blogger: i know an unnamed startup doing Quora meets GameCrush with game mechanics like Zynga
angel investor: you’re thinking small.  why not Quora plus Badgeville’s game mechanics for the enterprise?

two question marksToday, I saw a link on HackerNews to a Read Write Web story Quora for the Enterprise: Two Contenders:

Last week we asked whether we needed a Yelp for the enterprise. Ed Borasky* suggested that Quora could fill the role of providing crowdsourced reviews of enterprise software vendors., a more business-centric questions and answer site, could possibly do this as well.

But what about Quora for the enterprise?

Indeed!   And reading further in the story, discovered that one of the contenders is “is applying gamification principles in an attempt to drive adoption”.

Nice to know I’m in sync with the Zeitgeist.

Life imitates art.

But art imitates life, too.  Back at Microsoft in 2006, one of the game-changing strategies we came up with on the Ad Astra project was to leverage the web Q&A platform along with other consumer products like MSN Messenger in the enterprise by combining them with Sharepoint’s strenghts — and another strategy was “game-centric user interfaces”.  It remains a great idea, and let’s hope one somebody succeeds with it: one of startups in the article,** an established company like Jive or SocialText, or a new venture.

ad-astraAnd while we’re on the subject of great Ad Astra ideas I hope somebody will succeed with, how about taking a diversity focus with Q&A?  The upside of Q&A is huge; Naver’s success in South Korea highlights how well it complements algorithmic search.  With Google starting to be overwhelmed by content farms and spam, there’s a lot of money to be made.  So unsurprisingly, it’s a very cluttered space. And the engineering isn’t rocket science, so how can a company get a sustained competitive advantage?

Quora’s approach has been to concentrate on the Silicon Valley technology community, well-known early adopters who are very influential.  And it’s worked out great for them: an active early community, huge amounts of media attention, funding on ridiculously good terms, and usage now starting to skyrocket.  So far so good.  Now what?

Back in November, Kara Swisher framed Quora’s challenge as “trying to move the site well beyond its Silicon Valley-tech-dudes forum to one in which a plethora of topics and memes thrive.”  They certainly have a good opportunity.  So I asked what they’re doing to create a more diverse user base.  At some point, I sent it to Charlie Cheever from Quora.  Three months later, nobody’s responded.  I guess I got an answer.

A different approach (the one we proposed for Microsoft, before they cancelled the Q&A project and killed the MSN Messenger brand) would be to start with diversity.  Get a first foothold with women, Latinos, seniors, bilinguals, and other “niche” markets that almost nobody’s targeting.  There are a lot more of them out there than techie white guys — and their needs aren’t being met well by today’s search engines, so there’s a lot more upside.

Oh well.  If Quora won’t do it, maybe somebody else will.   In my novel, introduces a Q&A system designed by a woman and implemented by a diverse, mostly-female team.  With any luck at all, life will imitate art.


PS: for more on Quora, see Michael Arrington’s Quora has the Magic and Semil Shah’s Frequently Asked Questions About Quora, both on TechCrunch; Beth Kanter’s Is Quora Yet Another Social Network or Something Different?; Cara Pring’s Quora – Why you need to get involved, on The Social Skinny; and the answers to Why are people so impressed/confident in Quora?

For thoughts about how a diversity-focused Q&A sight might be different, see CV Harquail’s If Women Had Designed Facebook and Designing for Feminists vs. Designing for Women: Different vs. Revolutionary as well as my Emoware: What does Emotional Software Look Like?  And for … stay tuned!

Update, January 21: CV and I were discussing this on Twitter, and she suggested I ask the quorum.  Good idea!  How would Quora be different if it prioritized diversity? Hmm, y’know, now that I think of it, that’d be a pretty good scene to add in …

* who, in the small world department, i linked to in  Collusion is So Hot Right Now and once left a comment on Unfortuante Handling of an Error Condition 🙂

** or a competitor like StackOverflow.  Aren’t they a contender?  Update, January 27: Hah, I was right.  See Adrian Jeffries’ Forget Quora, Stack Overflow is Killing It in the New York Observer.   For competitive positioning between Quora and Stack Overflow, see Stack Overflow founder Joel Spolsky’s view on Hacker News and VC Fred Wilson’s comments in Prisms, Kool-Aid, and an Opportunity.  Joel knows how to sell to enterprises from his experience at Fog City Software and already has a huge customer list, so it’s a natural possibility for Stack Overflow.

Image credit: By Valerie Everett via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons