Quora – An Almost Successful Website

Recently, Quora launched a prompt generator designed just to ask questions. The website continues to strive for SEO optimization despite the fact that the users are annoyed by the strange questions it poses.
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An entrepreneur wanted to rent out his shop, but vendors were reluctant to take it because there weren’t any customers around. Since there were no vendors in the region, there were also no customers. This problem—often colloquially referred to as the ‘chicken and egg problem’—is persistent in the business world. 

But this problem is not unique to real-world stores. A discussion about whether the decade-old, Q-and-A platform Quora is still trying to solve its chicken and egg problem has been gaining momentum among users. The website has been attempting to figure out ways to bring engagement for years now. Launched by former Facebook employees, Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever, the platform has experienced its ups and downs but recent attempts display how the website is still finding ways to bring in user engagement. 

Recently, Quora initiated the much controversial experiment, ‘Quora Prompt Generator (QPG)’, a second attempt by Quora to use AI to provide questions on the platform. This effort was wrought in the light of Quora’s never-ending problem of ‘declining quantity of questions’.

Is Quora almost successful?

Nearly every Google result for a query in the middle of the 2010s directed users to Quora—which was then already well-known for its eclectic community of astronauts, politicians, scientists, and other luminaries—and allowed them to pose their queries directly on the platform to get answers from credible sources.

Prior to 2016, Quora was a much different site compared to what it is now. Communities on the website were more tightly knit. The website was primarily oriented towards an exchange of technical information, facts, and ideas. Early on, Quora developed its reputation as a reliable source of trustworthy knowledge obtained straight from well-known individuals. Even the co-founder of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian, took to answering questions on the platform at one point. 

However, when Quora discontinued the ‘Quora credit system’, things began to change. For the first time, Quora attempted to get more questions. In the past, users had to spend the credit they had accrued by responding to other users’ questions in order to seek an answer to their questions. With the dissolution of this credit system on the platform, any user would be able to ask for responses to their queries.

Following this, the infamous Quora Partner Program (QPP)—which rewarded users for asking unique questions—was launched. Despite a disastrous rollout, it continued to exist on the platform and was somewhat successful eventually. 

However, according to Sean Kernan, one of the most followed people on Quora, “When outliers reach remarkable earnings every 6 to 12 months, the platform had to cut earnings by 50%. In contrast, 99.9% of users rarely make any money. The misleading complexity of algorithmic earning schemes is this.”

On the other hand, Quora was experiencing an increase in spam questions as a result of this initiative. The issue with QPP was that it rewarded people for asking more questions; as a result, when a user is asking 50 questions each day, it stands to reason that the quality of the questions deteriorates likewise. 

QPG, another attempt to revive the business?

The ‘Quora Prompt Generator (QPG)is the latest addition to Quora’s experiment with question-generating bots. In comparison, the first one—“Quora question adding bot”—was not much of a success. It posed questions that did not improve the website’s quality or enhance SEO ratings.

To better understand how QPG works, AIM reached out to Gopalkrishna Vishwanath, one of the most followed Quora users. When enquired what he thought about Quora’s decision to launch its prompt generator, Gopalkrishna said, “Because they were not satisfied with how QPP was doing. There weren’t enough questions posed by Quora Partners. These partners were reluctant to ask questions once the QPP payments were cut.” 

He further added that, “the space provided by answers for advertisements results in ad income for Quora. Therefore, Quora needs as many questions as possible. It doesn’t matter if the questions aren’t addressed. They will all at least receive some responses.”

However, according to Gopalkrishna Vishwanath, another logic contributed to this move. He said, “But a more important reason was to save the money the platform was giving to their partners. Why pay Quora partners for mostly poor-quality questions when those poor-quality questions can be asked by their own bots?”

He shared that, “It is rumoured that these bots ask one question every two seconds, so Quora can generate 40k questions in a day using a bot.”

“They may have more than one bot with a different set of operating parameters that generate another type of question for other countries, where the questions would be more relevant. So, the total number of questions will be truly astronomical. Besides, they don’t have to pay for these questions.”

Gopalkrishna Vishwanath believes that most of the questions by prompt generator don’t make any sense. However, he speculates that it might not even matter in the game of numbers—“The majority of them are absurd, but that doesn’t matter. For them, it suffices if just 1 out of 10 questions make sense. The entire endeavour is an experiment. They are testing whether the bots will pick up new skills over time and through user input. In the end, they have two options: either they can improve these bots and produce more higher-quality questions, or they may abandon the initiative and restart a new QPP programme with new regulations that will reward higher quality.”

However, William Gunn, Head of Communication, Quora, disagrees with the above discussion over QPG. In conversation with AIM, William explained how QPG is aiding users in writing good answers.

“What QPG has done for us has to provide a very large number of questions so that we can select from those the right questions for the right person and direct those questions to the people that have the knowledge and experience to answer well.”

“We find that when our best writers get a good question, they’re more likely to write a good answer.”

He further claimed that the quality of QPG questions was rated as being on par with questions produced by humans in a poll of millions of people. “We think this is an impressive achievement made possible only by recent developments in the quality of large language models we have access to.”

Road ahead

Quora claims that it has more than 300 million active users per month, a figure that surpasses even that of the social media giant ‘Twitter’. However, in comparison, the most followed user on Quora is nowhere close to the most followed user on Twitter, on sheer numbers alone—Barack Obama has over 133 million followers on Twitter, making him most followed person on the platform; while Balaji Vishwanathan, the most followed person on Quora, has just over 600k followers. 

While the QPG programme may be a success for Quora, its users most definitely aren’t feeling good about it. The website has been concentrating on stats for so long that several believe that it may have lost its credibility with the users in the process. Initially, Quora handed out rewards for good answers, badges to top writers, and also scheduled frequent gatherings. However, from users’ perspective, all that seems to be left of Quora at this point is its SEO-friendly website.

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Lokesh Choudhary
Tech-savvy storyteller with a knack for uncovering AI's hidden gems and dodging its potential pitfalls. 'Navigating the world of tech', one story at a time. You can reach me at: lokesh.choudhary@analyticsindiamag.com.

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