When someone asks, "what's the next Twitter?" more often than not, there is not a response.
Over the past few years the answer has been, "Foursquare, Gowalla or Groupon" until recently. Over the past little while, a new online platform has been gaining ground, momentum and attention. It's called Quora. At it's core, Quora is a question and answer service. Anyone can post a question and anyone can answer it. Answers can be voted up and down (ala Digg) and you have the ability to follow the individuals and topics that are of interest to you.
"It doesn't sound all that groundbreaking."
If that's what you're thinking, please remember that they never sound all that groundbreaking. I still get the old, "Twitter just sounds stupid to me," or "why would anybody want to post all of their personal information on Facebook?" First off, never be a "market of one" (just because you would not do it or that you do not find it interesting, it does not mean that others will feel the same). Quora seems to be working because the questions are smart and the varied answers are smarter... and coming from some very smart people.
What makes Quora cool?
Here's a great example: Someone asked: What do people at Twitter think of Facebook? While this question can be answered by anyone, in this instance, Albert Sheu, a former Twitter Search Engineer (and current employee at Quora), candidly replied, "I will try to step through this question carefully, but honestly, people at Twitter are generally not fans of Facebook," (but you'll have to click on the question above to read his full response). Part of Quora's cool factor is that it seems to have captured the hearts and minds of the Silicon Valley luminaries and all of the Bloggers and Tweeters that follow them. They're not just watching Quora become popular, they're actually diving in and mixing it up... answering questions (and even posting questions).
And this is how media changes.
Just this week, Jeremiah Owyang (a well-known Blogger and industry analyst) noticed that he was now being quoted in more mainstream media spaces by journalists who were pulling his answers off of questions he responded to on Quora. Think about the ramifications of that for just one moment. Now, without the ability to always get an interview, a journalist can either ask a question on Quora or search for an answer if their question has already been asked in the space (more on that here: Quora: a tech journalist's utopia, but what does it mean for journalism at large?). Pushing that further, what happens when a well-known entity is active on Quora (posting questions and answering them), but then ignores a question being asked on Quora by a legitimate source?
The Marketing Implications.
While it is still early days and it's hard to tell if Quora is something that will be sustainable, the data, information and search engine optimization is already impressive. Quora knows what kind of questions gets answered, how they spread, who spreads them, who those people are connected to and, ultimately, what interests them. Much like many of the other online social networks we have seen to date, Quora is quickly going to have a lot of valuable and highly targetable data. On top of that, because of its current popularity many generic searches done in places like Google, Yahoo and Bing are now showing Quora questions high on the first page of organic search results (which speaks to its quick rise in power).
Where can this take us as Marketers?
Imagine the ability to really ask serious and honest questions of your consumers and community members. Think about the significant back and forth that can take place. Imagine what it's like when each answer can be voted up by everyone in an equal and public fashion. While all of that has been doable for some time, it's now taking place in a very public forum (that neither brand nor consumer "owns"). It's also a place that is not limited to 140 characters or being mixed in with a personal profile page or a Blog that sits within a walled garden.
What do you think about Quora... and the potential for Quora?