A few weeks ago I blogged about using Quora for photographers. I’ve been on the site pretty much daily since then and have enjoyed both participating and contributing to the service. I mostly spend time in the photography and Flickr subjects and have found lots of interesting questions and answers. I’ve answered a few questions and asked a few more myself.
But after reading this article by my friend Robert Scoble, I’m beginning to reconsider whether or not investing time in Quora makes sense. Best that I can tell Quora seems to be enabling anonymous “editors” with special powers to sanitize the site as they see fit.
From Scoble: “Turns out the question could have been collapsed by a reviewer (who isn’t paid by Quora, but given “special powers”). To fix this problem the reviewer’s name should be included on the collapsed answer, along with the reason why it was collapsed. There also should be a way to contest/appeal the downvote. Either way, whenever a question gets collapsed it should be very clear why, who did it, and what process the answerer can go through to change the answer to respond to the criticism, and get it upvoted again.”
So I guess Quora is giving some users special anonymous powers to edit the site as they see fit.
Those of you that know me know that I hate censorship. But even worse than censorship is anonymous censorship. In Scoble’s case apparently he had some very popular answers on the site that were collapsed (hidden) without any sort of explanation or accountability or anything.
I remember one of my first experiences with wikipedia. I had just come back from seeing the most amazing massive ladybug swarm. There were thousands of them, all over a tree. They turned the tree red there were so many of them. Apparently this is something that ladybugs do. I wanted to learn more about ladybugs so when I went home I looked up the ladybug entry on wikipedia. It was a good entry but the photos sucked. It had a really lame couple of bad photos of ladybugs — so I posted some of my ladybug swarming photos to the entry. They were much better photos. A couple of days later I got an email from a wikipedia editor telling me that she’d removed my photos because wikipedia wasn’t a place for my “self promotion.”
Ironically, the photo in question (above) is good enough for Getty to sell as a stock photograph, but not good enough to give away to wikipedia for free.
“Whatever,” I told myself, if they want crappier photos of ladybugs that’s their business. But that was the last time I contributed to wikipedia and even though I have thousands of photos that could improve dozens of wikipedia pages, I’ve never uploaded another one. I’ve had people specifically come to me where I’ve had unique photos asking me to contribute them to wikipedia and I usually just say no and remind them of my ladybug story. If I have a unique photo for a wikipedia page that they are missing an image for and I upload it, what good is it if some dumb ass editor is just going to delete the photo a few weeks later for some lame reason.
At least with wikipedia though the censorship was done by someone with a name. Allowing anonymous people, as seems to be happening now on Quora, the ability to delete entries is even worse.
I’m not sure what the answer is, but I know that I really don’t want to be involved with any social network where they give “special” users secret anonymous powers to censor. The best communities are run transparently. Allowing anonymous censorship is anything but transparency.
I hope Quora reconsiders this sort of censorship and at a minimum requires editors to disclose their name when they decide to censor a user. This might not be convenient for censors, who frequently like to hide in the shadows, but it’s certainly better for community.