There's a new website that has become pretty popular in the tech community called Quora, and I had ignored it up until recently. I mainly saw it through Twitter - for example I'd see someone tweet about answering a question on Quora - but I never knew what the heck it was. For my benefit just as much as yours I decided to give it a look.
Questions & Answers
At its heart Quora is a socially-aware question and answer service. The idea is that a user can ask a question, which is added to a repository of questions, and other folks can leave an answer. Good answers to questions float to the top via a Digg-like voting system. If you like a question you vote it up, if you dislike a question you vote it down. You can also "follow" a question or topic to stay current as new answers are submitted. For that reason, even if you don't plan on asking or answering any questions Quora becomes a great way to learn new information. Simply follow a topic, and all of the relevant questions will show up in your news feed!
Is Quora just for geeks?
It's true, as with many new websites and social services Quora has taken off with the tech crowd, and truthfully I'm amazed at how many big names from the industry are on there lending advice and answering questions. That said it hasn't really made a huge splash in the mainstream (I haven't seen a Quora answer in my Facebook feed yet), so you might be wondering whether Quora is for you. Well, let's ask!
One cool thing about Quora is that it's pretty good at recommending questions if your exact question hasn't already been asked, and so when I used the example above I landed on a question that asked: "What strategies will Quora use to cross the chasm from an early adopter community to one that appeals to a broader audience?" The answer with the highest amount of up votes goes a little something like this:
If you look at Quora as a graph, its strong bonds center around some of the key topics and people who are "early adopters." And Quora's notification systems tighten, retain, and perpetuate these bonds.
Fundamentally, for the graph to grow, new "strong bonds" have to form at the edges. So, for Quora to build its edges, it has to be promoted through folks that have the ability to bridge new people with disparate interests and let them discover each other quickly before they dissipate.
So essentially, right now, yes. Quora is mostly for geeks because those are the people that are using it. It should be noted that the person who posted the above highly-acclaimed answer did outline many solutions and strategies Quora can employ to remedy the situation. I think that it's a good thing that questions like this are available and answered honestly, however. The entire site smacks of Wikipedia-like attention to accuracy, and that's one of its best features.
Opportunity for Small Businesses
I do think that one opportunity Quora presents for small businesses, particularly ones that focus on industries that aren't technology-oriented, is that you have the opportunity to become a leader there and get noticed. If you're the first guru to ask and answer a lot of questions about oil fracking for example, you can gain a lot of attention now while Quora is still relatively young. If the site continues to grow over time that could mean a lot of visibility for your website or other online initiatives down the road.