Hey Quora, Censorship Sucks, Anonymous Censorship Sucks Even More

Ladybug Ladybug

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.

Quora, A Valuable Resource for Photographers

Quora, A Valuable Resource for Photographers

Katherine Boehret over at The Wall Street Journal is out with a review of the hot new early adopter Q&A site this morning, Quora.

Although the Journal calls the site “uninviting, geeky and poorly explained,” after spending a fair amount of time on the site over the past few weeks, I think the site really is the real deal. What makes Quora work, I think, is largely that they have been able to pull in a large number of intelligent insightful experts on a wide range of topics. Some of the questions are fun, like “Which is better; The Wire or The Sopranos?” (I’ve got the top answer there now and of course we all know that The Wire was better — Omar Little is arguably the best character ever to appear on television) — other questions are more serious.

As far as the more serious questions go, I’m very impressed with both the quality of questions and answers that I’m seeing around photography related topics especially. You can find the photography category on Quora here and check out some of the questions and answers for yourself. Here you can find questions like “What are the must-have lenses for a Canon DSLR?” (my favorite Canon lens the 135 f/2.0 L gets some love there). Another question is “What’s a good bag for amateur photographers?” Another user asks “Who are the best concert photographers?”

Users can read submitted answers and if they like an answer they can vote it up (with the little triangles next to the answer). If they don’t like an answer they can vote it down.

I was particularly impressed with Quora’s insight into the photosharing world. There is a whole category devoted to photosharing as well as a category devoted to Flickr itself. Several former Flickr employees (including co-founder Stewart Butterfield and former Flickr Engineering Chief Cal Henderson) as well as some current Flickr staffers have participated on the site.

Former Flickr engineer Kellan Elliott-McCrea is the top ranked Flickr answerer so far, largely based on all the upvotes he got on his revealing answer to the question “Why did Flickr miss the mobile photo opportunity that Instagram and picplz are pursuing?” As a former insider, Elliott-McCrea paints a picture of Flickr mobile innovation being held back by Yahoo Corporate politics. Writes Elliott-McCrea:

“Lastly, Marco Boerries was the without a doubt one of the most viciously political, and disliked Yahoo! execs and he reigned for 4 years over the Yahoo “Connected Life” team which had universal control over all native mobile experiences within Yahoo. Several Flickr internal attempts to build and ship native mobile experiences (going back to 2006) were squashed relentlessly. The Flickr iPhone app that eventually shipped was built by CL.”

On a personal level I really enjoy interacting with other users in the Flickr section about Flickr. I’ve been banned by Flickr for over a year now from the Flickr Help Forum where similar questions are answered on Flickr. It’s nice being able to participate in less censored forums about Flickr where Flickr can’t censor what users have to say as it’s off of their service.

I think it’s largely the quality of the answers and the early adopters on Quora that are responsible for it’s success in the Q&A world where other companies haven’t seen as much growth or traction recently. Ask.com, Facebook Questions, Yahoo Answers, Hunch, and several other services have tried various approaches to the Q&A structure, but I have not found any of these to be as compelling an experience or as personally useful as Quora.

In addition to reading questions and answers (and voting them up or down) any registered user can also try their hand at answering a question or asking an entirely new question. Users can also choose to follow other users like most other social networks and a recent activity stream shows the most recent actions on the questions that you are following.

All in all I’m super impressed with what I’ve seen from this young new company. I suspect we are only seeing the beginning with Quora and that the number of questions and quality of answers will only improve over time. Hopefully they are not quickly acquired by some bigger fish. The site was started by two former Facebook employees and this is just the type of company that I can see Facebook trying scoop up.

If you want to follow me on Quora you can find me here.