A Long March Ends: Quora and The Social Web

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A Long March Ends: Quora and The Social Web

24 hours ago I bid commercial social media a good day. Honestly, it was more a death rattle than anything else. I left Facebook early on in 2016 and have never had accounts on newer sites. Reddit and Twitter went by the wayside more than a year ago now. About the same time I also departed several forums as well. The last one to drop was Quora, a question and answer site.

I was never comfortable with Facebook, even though I adopted it early on. The other mainstream social media sites never became sticky for me and it was easier to leave them. Earlier this year I fell out of love with the Free Software Movement and retired the last of my forum accounts as a result. I will likely write more on that experience some other time.

But, Quora at the beginning was very sticky. I made friends on there and got to talk about a whole host of topics that interest me that I never get engaged on IRL. I was on the site for ten years, had posts totaling in the tens of thousands, an several thousand followers. I was a top writer every year they had the designation but one. But, my relationship with Quora became more and more unattainable over the last three years. It was the same three, tired problems that the net is awash with these days.

Those three problems are 1) Over commercialization, 2) Lack of focus on basic product performance, 3) Lack of engagement with the user base about the future of the product. These are standard and normative, but Quora showed promise in the beginning that allowed me to hope they would be different. I was wrong, but lets talk a bit about all three anyway.

I want to be a customer, not a user. I am happy to pay to use a service provided it is of good quality, the participants are included in decisions making, and plans are rolled out both well in advance and communicated clearly. The commercial web does not want my money or my partnership. They want revenue from major corporations with deep pockets and when they do offer me some crumbs it is never at the cost of those deep pockets. I am the product, not the customer. That isnt going to change as long as people still use these platforms. I cant control other people, but I can control what I do online. Quoras recent moves simply proved they are as clueless as other social media platforms.

I believe sites deliberately and tastefully make the products hard to use for their stated purpose so that you spend more time on the site out of simple spite doom scrolling because it leads to more ad views. Quora made it nearly impossible to find good content without viewing multiple pages because the home feed had always been garbage. In recent months they took away key moderating tools to control what content was served and who could request content of you. They had also introduced sponsored questions, which were always low quality leading to the site being awash with such content. Ads were introduced and recently a subscription services was added that allowed users to paywall their content. All product development centered around making money off of the user base while not offering a more enjoyable experience in return. This kind of exploitation online is so common its the basic business model for nearly every commercial site.

In the beginning Quora regularly surveyed users and took special care to engage with top writers. Virtual and physical thanks were provided for being a leader in the community. Some of this wasn’t sustainable for sure (like the Patagonia jacket they gave me), but they threw the baby out with the bath water. Facebook’s “move fast and break things” set in as it had with so many other sites before. When will they learn that the “things” they break are the relationship with their users ultimately making their product less valuable to them? Just as too much customization broke Myspace, exploitation will break the current crop of “services” eventually.

I dont know what is next for the web at large, but I do know what is in store for me. Overall, I will have a smaller footprint that is easier to manage. The sites I will use will be non-commercial that value the people who utilize them. Where it makes sense and where it is offered I will pay to support the service. Hopefully more people will do the same breaking the key linkage for the commercial web that is everyone uses it because once that is gone it will be a new day for us all.

Page Created 9/4/2021