Quora: The Next Social Network IT Pros Need to Know?

Quora is an increasingly popular social network for asking and answering questions on topics ranging from how Britney Spears was discovered to how to flee Tokyo following an earthquake. But the venture funded start-up, which was formed by a couple of ex-Facebook execs, also is filled with plenty of crowdsourced expertise about work-related topics for IT pros, such as whether Cisco will buy EMC, how the iPad might be used at work and how to improve Ubuntu.

Quora, which calls itself "a continually improving collection of questions and answers" and has been described by others as a more refined version of Wikipedia, is by far not the only such offering on the Web. Everyone from Facebook with its Questions feature to LinkedIn to upstart Formspring provide different takes on answering questions in a social setting. And then there are more established Q&A sites like Yahoo Answers, Ask.com, ChaCha and StackOverflow, which caters to coders.

But given the hype around the free Quora offering fueled by everyone from ubiquitous blogger Robert Scoble ("Is Quora the biggest blogging innovation in 10 years?") to TechCrunch, I figured it was worth taking a closer look at Quora and its ability to let users follow not just friends but also topics and individual questions. After all, Quora buttons are even showing up on some websites alongside Twitter and RSS buttons, and the Q&A site has even inspired a parody site called Cwora.

[SOCIAL MEDIA: Twitter killer in the works?]

I decided the best way to get a quick sense of whether Quora could be useful for IT pros would be to post a question on the site asking exactly that. I've only been on the site since February, so my followers' list is relatively short (89 as of this writing, including a number of people I don't believe I really know). As such, I probably shouldn't be surprised that I only got one answer to my question, and that was from an IT analyst who says Quora isn't super useful for enterprise IT topics. Though he did go on to say that you can learn quite a bit about enterprise software startups, hosting services from the likes of Amazon and Rackspace, and software as a service. (Meanwhile, the question "Given our current technology and with the proper training, would it be possible for someone to become Batman?" sparked 19 responses.)

Quora founder Adam D'Angelo himself told ReadWriteWeb recently that creating an enterprise-specific version of Quora isn't a current priority, and ReadWriteWeb points out that there are enterprise-specific Q&A offerings available or in the works such as Opzi and Mindquilt.

A writer for IT World Canada proposes several ways enterprise IT workers might make use of Quora, including getting a feel from early adopters of how the latest gadgets fit into enterprise architectures and testing out annual end user IT survey questions on the masses before hitting up internal employees with them.

Quora is also catching the eye of those in the job recruiting field, with the site being seen as a way for job hunters to show off their expertise to potential employers.

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One attractive aspect of Quora is that you will find some higher up techies using it to spread their message or set the record straight. Among these bigshots: Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales and Craigslist's Craig Newmark. Though it's not always easy to tell if companies are basically posing questions to their own execs.

Those of you whacked by last week's Amazon EC2 cloud computing debacle might be interested to know, for example, that Amazon's CTO Werner Vogels is on Quora. While we didn't see him weighing in on questions about the EC2 blow-up, he did recently answer the question: "How and why did Amazon get into the cloud computing business?" and discounted the "myth" that Amazon got into the business to lease out its excess capacity outside of the year-end holiday season." It was never a matter of selling excess capacity, actually within 2 months after launch AWS would have already burned through the excess Amazon.com capacity," he wrote.

Another tech mover and shaker, Bill Nguyen, responded to a question about why his new smartphone app company – Color - is called that.

Whether words of wisdom from friends, experts and strangers will be enough to draw IT pros to yet another social network remains the big question for Quora.

Bob has all the answers on Twitter, Quora and too many other social network sites to list.

Read more about lans and routers in Network World's LANs & Routers section.

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