Quora answer: Is Quora in trouble? If so, how should they respond?

Apr 08 2013

I believe that Quora is in trouble, but not because of any external competitor, but because they basically do not know what they are doing. Quora picked up the idea of Q&A from Stackexchange, which does questions and answers right, but they wanted to make a Q&A site for the “masses”. And this was a good idea. And the design at first was stunning compared to Stackexchange. And the founders were insiders to they attracted the attention of other Web 2.0 insiders. But none of this helped them think any more deeply about Q&A. So now we see them randomly making changes to the platform without really understanding the nature of Q&A and so all these random changes don’t help. Basically I see Quora designers as lost, continually tweaking things in random ways hoping something will help the situation, but now finding anything that really helps.

When people go to Stackexchange they have real questions. They are searching for real answers. And thus the quality of Stackexchange questions and answers is very high. On Quora by comparison we have a lot of fake or un-interesting questions. This is because people here on Quora are not for the most part seeking knowledge.  And because of that no matter how good the answers are there is a limit to what can be done in terms of giving substantive answers. If you give substantive answers then these are more likely to be collapsed because people don’t really want answers that are substantive. What is desired is pabulum.

Now if Quora does not solve this problem, i.e. the problem that much of what is here on Quora is mere opinion and that it is popular opinion that rules instead of knowledge. For instance, we have admins that really do not know about the subjects that they oversee making decisions out of ignorance all the time. In Science there is peer review. In other words people who know as much as the author about a subject, or more, and the judges of what is worth publishing. Having volunteers who do not have knowledge making decisions in matters of knowledge just will not work ultimately.

So what is the real problem? The real problem is that Questions float free. The context of the questions is missing. That context is called the problematic. Questions without context have difficulty having significant meaning ultimately. Thus instead of topics structuring the relation between questions this should be done by problematics.

For instance, my problematic our of which all my thought and exploration unfold is the question of the relation of the Western worldview to other worldviews especially those which have a nondual basis rather than a dualistic basis as exists in the Western worldview. This gets narrowed to the question of the relation of Western Science to traditional sciences, which allow us to understand some of the underlying presumptions of the western science that we might be blind to and which may be distorting our views of the world. Each person who is on an intellectual quest should be able  to articulate their problematic. And if you know the problematic of a person then you can understand what motivates them to ask the questions that they are asking. Problematics are not specific to individuals and can be shared. So just as questions can be shared so can problematics. So there should be some way to share and refine problematics, and questions that grow out of problematics should be given higher value than free-floating questions that are groundless. Many questions can grow out of problematics including those that question the presumptions of the problematic itself.

Now once we had grounded questions, even if the ground itself groundless, then what is necessary is to have chains of questions that form a dialectic. Knowledge is produced out of the dialectic. Without the dialectic you cannot get to knowledge. Thus there will never be any thing other than baseless opinion on Quora until somehow problematics an dialectics are facilitated.

Opinion is fine, but without a ground it is baseless. If we provide the ground, the problematic, perhaps some evidence too, then all we are going to do is keep going around in circles. But the only way to break through into knowledge is through participating in a dialectic. And this is what the structure of Quora prevents. We could all put our problematics in our profiles, but the current design does not make it easy to generate a series of questions and answers that refine representable intelligibles and aim at non-representable intelligibles (like the Good, Right, and any higher concepts).

So if I were to redesign Quora I would add Problematics and Approaches that are responses to problematics and the ability to link Questions to Approaches. People can then argue over problematics and the approaches to problematics and that will allow the questions generated to have a ground.

Next, I would change the relation of Questions to Answers and the relation of comments to both. Specifically, I would increase the number of answers that a person can give to a question to two or three so that one can respond to the developments in the relation between answers as they accumulate.  I now put these in the additional answers in the single answer space, but this is confusing. The convention should be that one only answers a question again if their opinion has changed by hearing the other answers, or if one needs to refine ones answer based on taking into account the comments one receives. Next I would make it so it is easy to link answers to new questions. Some people mark follow-up questions but these are awkward, and it should be that any answer should be linkable to a new question, or that any question should be link able to a new question directly so that chains of questions and answers can be created. These chains of questions and answers specify the dialectical moments as they unfold. Then suddenly the Wiki part of the questions make sense as the place where the knowledge derived from the dialectical movement may be recorded. What happens in the questions and answer chains is that we refine our distinctions, and via refined distinctions we point toward knowledge, which ultimately is non-representable. But on the way to understanding the non-representables we pass though representations, and what is needed is an easy way for knowledge to be packaged. This is what the Google Knowls were meant to be, and so what I would do is include knowls into Quroa so that there is something like the articles and books that capture what is learned in longer arguments. Right now there is nowhere but the Wiki to put the gleaned knowledge, and the wiki is not an appropriate structure for that. Rather the wiki is a good place to give summaries, but summaries of opinion do not knowledge make. Unfortunately Google is killing off knowls, but it is unlikely that people will use two services together as I have tried to do in the past because it is just too inconvenient.

Now this structure would imitate what is going on in Science, and what we have all been taught to do in school.

The next step is to create a reputation system like exists on Stackexchange so we can recognize experts in certain fields. Once the reputation system exists then it will be possible to give those with higher reputation in an area greater weight in their votes. It would also be possible to make the economy of points that Quora is trying to establish make actual sense rather than just being random and uninteresting. Points could be given for people starting with the problematic and specifying approaches and then asking questions within an approach, and then giving answers to those questions, and then continuing to ask questions and giving answers in a chain, until they produced knowls or summarized in the wiki. What needs to be rewarded is building the whole structure with others somehow. Only some will actually engage in the dialectics based on problematics, but those who do will be exemplifying how knowledge is actually produced, and like worker bees people will crowd source the creation of knowledge. It would for sure still be a lowbrow sort of knowledge, but still it would be actual knowledge and not glorified opinion. The point is that everyone will benefit from the actual production of knowledge on Quora, because it will show exactly how it is done, and so people can learn anew what they were taught in school but perhaps did not understand completely, i.e. how to build knowledge with others via arguments and conversations, and exegesis of results built up in a dialectical fashion.

Now, I know that Quora will not be able to do this, because if they had understood it they would have done it from the beginning. But perhaps others are willing to join with me to create a system like this to replace Quora, let us call it MetaQuora or QuoraM. It should be fairly easy to do with the right talent. The object would be to create a system that actually produces knowledge outside of Academia by implementing the dialectic as a game. We can call that the Glass Bead Game that Hesse envisioned. Meta-Quora leaves Quora in place as Q&A for the masses, which is poorly designed, but a good base to show what happens when you do not facilitate the dialectical interaction of people. Once meta-Quroa starts to produce knowledge, rather than just good answers, then it will be shown that the best thing to do is to draw from our tradition when we make new media. The tradition of dialectics goes back to Plato, and was formalized by the Skeptics, and taken up and reified by Hegel. But basically the entire philosophical tradition is one huge dialectical game. There is no reason not to do this here and thus facilitate the creation of knowledge, which is infinitely more value than merely good answers. Knowledge is a bedrock you can build a worldview on and within a lifeworld build a life upon within the world. We know this is true because we have thousands of educational institutions that we pay good money to so that we may learn the knowledge that exists, and also learn how to create knowledge ourselves. But there is no reason this needs to be a lonely pursuit, rather it can be a communal pursuit, and a game that can help us build reputations as being knowledgeable, and also help us to learn how to produce knowledge ourselves within our own lives by example.

Notice Answer^n would mean you can give multiple answers but each one costs exponentially more points.




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