I became aware of Quora through Twitter. I was noticing Quora this and Quora that without understanding what it was and eventually I must have clicked on a link and ended up on the Quora site.
Quora is a Q&A tool with a social networking dimension. It's integrated with Twitter. These days, everything needs to be integrated with Twitter it seems. You set up an account and off you go, posting questions and answering other people's questions.
It reminded me of Aardvark, a similar Q&A service that I tried out (never really got into) a few months ago and Wolfram Alpha. Aardvark is more about seeking advice about where to take your next vacation and Wolfram Alpha is more like querying an encyclopedia. I'm simplifying.
Aardvark seemed to be a Q&A in a vacuum, with random people answering your questions whereas Quora collects and displays answers in a semi-organized fashion and allows you to identify topics of interest and people to follow. Wolfram Alpha is a powerful search engine that retrieves verified information. At least that's my impression.
As a public tool, these are interesting experiments but I'm more interested in their potential application within organizations. There is a significant amount of literature on knowledge management systems within organizations specifically focused on Q&A types of "solutions." These are based on a number of assumptions: 1) there is a demand and supply side in the knowledge equation, a market; 2) the correct incentives are in place and all you need is a tool to act as a bridge between knowledge seekers and knowledge owners.
When you set up tools such as Yammer within an organization, you are essentially opening up broader avenues for people to connect, potentially ask questions and get answers. You should not expect everyone to use these new channels for Q&A purposes and you should not expect this to be THE solution. A Q&A system such as Quora, when implemented within an organization, has the advantage of gathering answers into one spot. Answers don't get lost in the traffic, they accumulate, in a not-so-orderly fashion, around questions.
I haven't explored the tool long enough to understand its true potential, but long enough to have a few questions: How much structure should be imposed for the system to remain useful and usable? How much policing and training is necessary to avoid complete chaos? How do you deal with the skeptics who will inevitably say that none of the content is "validated" knowledge, that it could actually be dangerous if people follow the advice posted and it's wrong.
It's not exactly a new idea. I remembered reading a paper by Ackerman & Malone titled "Answer Garden: a tool for growing organizational memory," from 1990 (might as well be a century ago).