Since the advent of the internet, users have been turning to search engines to quickly find the answer to a steady stream of questions. “Hey Google, how old is Whoopi Goldberg?” (65) “Who won the World Series in 2016?” (The Chicago Cubs) “What day of the week does Christmas fall on this year?” (Saturday). I did a little personal research for this post and found I used Google 13 times that day. This can easily double when I’m researching for a blog piece.
It was, in fact, while I was working on my recent Waves story, that I discovered a certain site. I don’t remember my question, but an “answer” from Quora suddenly appeared. In order to read the rest of the answer, I had to provide my email address (I created one for this type of request) and signed up for 10 topics of interest (I made them all related to oceans) and I received some useful information.
But that was just the beginning. Soon, I was receiving incredibly random questions in my Inbox. Quora was sending me a daily email titled “The Quora Digest” which contained a set of questions and one answer deemed the “best” for each one. Here are a few of them:
What Happens to Unsold Hamsters in Pet Store?
Why is the Intro to Stairway to Heaven called the Forbidden Riff?
What would Zeus Fear?
Why Are Green Eyes So Unique?
Although it was slightly annoying, I’ll admit it was also interesting. My next Google search was “What is Quora?”
Quora is a question and answer website where people go to find information. “Every piece of content on the site is generated by users, meaning it is created, edited, and organized by the same people that use the website.” In 2020, the website had 300 million unique users a month. It was developed by two former Facebook employees named Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever in 2009. Personally, I think the homepage resembles a Facebook newsfeed. It is free.
On Facebook, you “follow” friends. On Quora, you can choose to follow users whose answers you like and/or an endless list of topics of interest. Additionally, there is the Spaces option. A space is defined as “a place for people with shared goals, interests and values.” Each Space is run by its creator/moderator. Here is a tiny sampling of Quora Spaces:
Mountains and Forests….Ancient Europe….Open Mic Night….Michael Jackson fans
Cheap Hotel World…Oceanography Waves…After Cancer Club
Narcissist Victim Support
Mythology and Folklore
There are two ways to use Quora. You can either enter a question and wait for responses or you can be someone who answers the questions. Apparently, someone’s old answer to a question was so close to my original wave search on Google, that it appeared in my search results and I clicked it.
According to Quora’s guidelines, you should only answer a question if “you have a high quality, honest, and accurate answer.” Don’t respond to user’s questions with nonsense. This is reinforced with a nod to social media. When users read the answers, they can click “upvote” or “downvote” on how helpful and accurate the answer is related to the question. But that doesn’t mean the answers are all fact-driven. Some are opinion and some are based on experience. As long as they are informative and connect directly to the question, they should receive an “upvote.”
The more “upvotes” that are received, Quora will view the answer as legitimate and move it up in rankings. “Downvotes” will bury it. To add to that layer of credibility, Quora encourages new users to add credentials to their bios so people respect the answer and base of knowledge.
Interestingly, like Wikipedia, Quora allows editing of someone’s else’s question. Their Help page states that this is because they are building a “reusable library of knowledge.” They literally want every question to become the best resource for anyone looking for an answer to that question. “To this end, it’s in everyone’s interest for questions to be well-formed, which means that your questions may get edited sometimes.”
So, yes. I wanted to ask a question. I mused. I felt the weight of posing my first question (especially with all these guidelines) and I’ll admit that it was a tad academic: In today’s society, is there anything left with current events or teachings that could become future “myths”? As I typed it in, Quora told me it had been previously asked and answered so I didn’t submit it. I went in a completely different direction. I asked “Why do people like to eat mint jelly with lamb?”
My first answer came in less than 5 minutes. Caro Elliot told me:
“I’ve had mint sauce made with vinegar and that is to cut through the fattiness of the lamb. Or as a jelly, I’ve had lavender jelly and that is a beautiful, sweet accompaniment to lamb, don’t ask me how or why it works but it does and maybe the combo of a good protein meal and the lavender makes you just want to sleep it off!”
My second one came a minute later and was a fast one-liner about enhancing the lamb. And that was it.
A day or two later, I returned with a question based on my own bucket list. I want to visit the 9-11 Memorial Museum in New York City. It just feels like something I should do. I was curious if others feel the same way, so I asked:
“How important is it to you to visit the 9-11 Memorial Museum in NYC sometime in your lifetime?”
I received 4 serious answers. I deleted “It is extremely imperative that I visit that random place you just mentioned.”
Here are two additional answers:
Margaret-Meg Walsh responded “That is an individual decision. I served that day and went to the site to help with the rescue. I am an EMT. The history of the mass casualty incident has a home through the museum. It is essential that those who gave their lives NEVER be FORGOTTEN.”
Sue Skiparis wrote “I would say yes, it is a very moving experience. But be prepared for an emotional experience.
The last time I visited I was with a young couple who were 8 and 9 at the time of the attack. As young children at the time with responsible parents their knowledge of the day was in broad strokes. They found the museum fascinating. My husband and I who watched on tv the second plane hit the towers, and as we live 75 miles from NYC, we knew people who were there that day so we found the visit to be overwhelming at times and had to take a couple of breaks in the cafe.”
The next logical step in my experiment was to answer a question. Staying away from any difficult academic ones, I chose the innocuous “Have you ever been completely surprised at how nice a certain celebrity is in real life?” I shared a nice story I had just seen on the news about how Shaquille O’Neal, after hearing a young man at a jewelry store ask about a lay-away plan for an engagement ring, had handed his credit card to the employee to take care of the bill. I received 4 upvotes. It wasn’t until later that I realized the question was based on the person’s own real-life encounter. My answer screamed “newbie.” Clearly, I’m on a learning curve.
Then, it suddenly dawned on me what I should be asking, so I typed in “Why should people use Quora instead of Google?” The question had already been asked, but there were only a couple of answers. I liked this one:
“It has a simpler format and a faster response system. You can also view previous answers for similar questions. There are categories (and topics), all sorted. Users credentials are verified. Moderation is better. Lastly, Google is a search engine. This is a Question-Answer site.”
This may be a big year for Quora because Yahoo Answers is pulling the plug on May 4th. Founded in 2005, the site was really the pioneer of the Q & A format, but with increasingly bad questions and answers, and a lot of trolling, Yahoo is moving away from the platform. The official reason is that “it has become less popular over the years.”
Looking ahead, I will probably use Quora for questions only. As a blogger, I have already learned the advantages when seeking out good information. I just recognize that I don’t need more social media in my life.
And, in case you’re wondering, here is the answer to “What Happens to Unsold Hamsters in a Pet Store?”
This number one answer written by Fawn Taylor has received 4.6 million upvotes:
“At Petco, we mark them down by 25% every three months or so. So, a hamster that stays for three months is 25% off, six months is 50%, nine is 75%. If they’re there for a year we either give them to a different Petco, mark them down to about $1 or even put them up for free. Or, one of the employees takes them home. We personally have acquired… 7 free animals since starting at Petco…”
I can’t deny the fun in watching from the sidelines; and learning in the process.
Photo by Evan Dennis/Unsplash