What the frak is Quora?

It's a new(ish) social network built around questions and answers. Is it worth your time and bother? Good question.

Remember, you read it here first folks: Quora is the next big thing in social networking, the next Twitter and Facebook combined.

And if you didn’t read it here first, you probably read it in a dozens of other places (or dozens of times on TechCrunch). Because everyone is feeling the need to anoint this service as the new Twitter/Facebook/FourSquare/add your favorite Web 2.0 startup here. Why they’re all so excited is a bit harder to fathom.

Every day I get a half dozen “so-and-so is following you on Quora” messages in my inbox, some of them from fairly well known members of the digerati. It seems like everyone is flocking to the latest social media darling – and today’s coverage in places like USA Today and the Boston Globe will surely add to that.

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If you're not one of them you’re probably wondering: What the frak is Quora? Good question. Let me answer it for you in a pompous and condescending manner.

Take Twitter, add the Questions features from Facebook or LinkedIn, dump in a big helping of Wikipedia, bake at 400 degrees for 10 or 12 months and voila, you've got Quora – a social network built around questions and answers.

Post a question on virtually any topic and someone (or many someones) will eventually answer it. Someone may also come in and edit your question, just because they can. You can also search for questions to see if someone has already asked the one you were about to (odds are they have), and share your questions and/or answers on Twitter and Facebook. As with Wikipedia, anyone can add their 2 cents, regardless of their actual knowledge of the topic. Also like Wikipedia, Quora has invisible moderators who will occasionally swoop down from on high and pluck your questions for violating one of Quora's many rules (like asking a survey question) or ding your responses for not being “helpful” enough.

For some reason, this seems to happen to me a lot. Go figure.

The idea is to get valuable answers to real questions from people who know what they’re talking about. As on sites like Digg, people can vote up your responses, so they rise to the top of the heap, or designate them as “not helpful,” which drops their rank (and, presumably, your rep on Quora).

is quora less fun than a heart attack?

The problem with this scheme: As with many things on the Web, a great many people are quite certain they know what they’re talking about, even if they actually don’t (see pompous and condescending, above). Many of the questions are really asking for people’s opinions; as the old saying goes, like certain bodily orifaces, everybody’s got 'em. And the folks running Quora seem to entirely lack a) a sense of humor, and b) a stupidity filter.

So while you’ll have a hard time finding funny questions or answers, you will find some truly dumb ones (which can be amusing in their own right).

Me, I like a little snark with my information, just as I like a little hot sauce on my eggs. So the deep earnestness of Quora is a bit of a turnoff; it's like eating unsalted oatmeal, 24/7. I'm not willing to ditch it entirely yet, because I suspect it is possible that one day I'll need the answer to a question and find it there. Hasn't happened yet though. Your mileage may vary.

ITworld TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan is now taking your questions. Ask him anything; just don't expect a straight answer. Take a walk with him on the snider side at eSarcasm (Geek Humor Gone Wild) or follow him on Twitter:@tynan_on_tech.

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