Question time for web 2.0 answers...
Quora? Are you talking about something from Star Trek again?
Quora may sound pretty sci-fi but I can assure you it does not involve Klingons - although it can tell you how to say Merry Christmas in Klingon. "QISmaS DatIvjaj 'ej DIS chu' DatIvjaj!" in case you were wondering.
Er, thanks I think. So what exactly is this Quora thing then, it sounds a bit wacky...
Quora is a user-generated questions-and-answers website - similar in concept to services such as Yahoo Answers and Facebook Questions. There's a pretty succinct answer for what Quora is on the site itself: "Quora is a collection of questions and answers that is created, edited, and organised by everyone who uses it. The main goal is to be the best possible resource for someone who wants to know about each question."
Aren't there sites that do that already - what's so great about Quora?
Well, for starters it's been exciting the Silicon Valley technorati who like to think they have an eye for spotting the next Big Web Thing. The buzz they have helped generate has raised Quora's profile in recent months, encouraging a swathe of new users to sign up. Hot property or not, it's certainly being hyped as such.
OK, so what make's Quora stand out from other Q&A sites?
For one thing Quora is fastidious about spelling, punctuation and grammar - and let's face it other Q&A sites are all too often littered with off-putting text-speak, slang and excessive use of exclamation marks. It may sound trivial but that kind of attention to detail shows Quora is trying to set the bar a bit higher than some of its rivals.
Quora describes itself as a "database of knowledge" - stating on its website: "People use Quora to document the world around them. Over time, the database of knowledge should grow and grow until almost everything that anyone wants to know is available in the system."
I like the sound of it already...
The site has also taken lots of web 2.0 concepts from other services and applied them to the Q&A format - in an attempt to get an edge on rival offerings. So once a user has registered and created their Quora profile they can pose and answer questions, search for existing questions and browse answers. Users can also edit existing answers and even edit the questions themselves. They can also add comments to questions, vote answers up and down, and thank users for individual comments or flag them as not helpful. Quora says the idea is that the best answer and most useful question will rise to the top.
That's not all either: Quora users can follow other users to see what questions they are asking and answering, as well as following questions and topics to keep abreast of developments. The site also lets users message each other and records any @mentions of a user on the site, taking a leaf out of Twitter's book. And of course Quora is plugged into social networks - enabling its users to reach out to social network services by easily sharing questions to sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and also via email.
Quora evangelists say the site stands out because it has incorporated all these web 2.0 elements and social media tricks, following in the footsteps of services such as Digg, Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia.
Sounds cool. How do I register for Quora?
Quora is still invite-only, so you'll need to submit your email and wait to get an invite. The site encourages users to register using their Facebook or Twitter credentials so they can quickly establish a network of users they already know around them - which it says makes the service more useful. However, it does also allow people to sign up with just an email address.
Users are required to use their real name on the site - although Quora does also allow people to ask and answer questions anonymously. Anonymity is its answer to ensuring no discussions are off-limits to users who have privacy concerns about being associated with the topic in question.
Is there anything I can't do on Quora?
Some controversial questions might be locked, which means they can't be edited or new answers added - in much the same way as Wikipedia sometimes locks entries to prevent vandalism.
Also, companies and organisation cannot have a Quora account. The site requires its users to be individuals, not faceless corporations, although individuals are encouraged to...
... create a short bio that could include details of their employer.
Oh and if you want to ask questions of an adult nature, you have to opt in explicitly via your account settings to enable adult content topics.
I'll bear that in mind. How many users does Quora have then?
It's difficult to say at the moment, because Quora has not officially released user stats, but a reasonable guess is that it has in excess of 500,000 registered uses and is growing quickly. A Quora engineer posted an answer to a question about why the site has been so slow lately, explaining the sluggishness is down to scalability issues, owing to a lot of new users signing up in recent weeks.
To put the 500,000 figure in context, the site has been up and running in invite-beta form since about January 2010.
How can Quora help me with my business?
Aside from Quora offering a professional environment to ask and seek answers on business-related topics, the calibre of its users can be surprisingly high. Especially - and rather inevitably - when it comes to the tech industry and Silicon Valley.
Take this question: How and why did Amazon get into the cloud computing business?. It's had four answers in total but the answer that has risen to the top was written by one Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon. Other high-profile tech execs on Quora - who may or may not be asking and answering questions - include Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who only asks and edits, Twitter co-founders Biz Stone who just lurks, and Evan Williams, who asks, edits and answers, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales who has answered and edited.
A question on Quora, asking what topics the site addresses best, underlines its bias towards technology start-up knowledge but online retail also gets a mention. As Quora is a Silicon Valley start-up, this bias is to be expected but assuming it's able to grow its user base, it should be able to broaden its range of well-answered questions.
Even so, Quora already has scores of business discussion topics on the go - including: business, business models, business strategy, CIO, entrepreneurship, innovation, technology trends, and venture capital to name a few.
How does Quora make money?
Quora doesn't have a revenue model yet. It's still very much in start-up territory. But answering a question on its long-term business plan, one of Quora's co-founders, Adam D'Angelo - formerly CTO of Facebook - suggests there's a good chance that advertising will end up being part of the mix.
What question should I ask?
I can't answer that - but Quora has guidelines to help you craft good Quora-friendly questions. Tip: don't just ask yes-no questions - ask what-why instead. But don't be too surprised if your newbie question is edited or changed to make it more useful to the Quora community as a whole. This is a database, after all, and your query merely grist to its community cyber-mill.
Anything else I should know?
Quora also has a feature called Quora posts - enabling users to post stuff they know without having to pose or answer a question. Some might even describe this feature as blogging or microblogging.
One more thing: Quora's has a FAQ for new users.