Quora for journalists: Daydreaming on its potential

The big buzz today was on Quora, a question-and-answer website that’s getting all the requisite “It’s going to replace Twitter/blogs/unsliced bread” hype. As with any bit of Mashable-fueled hysteria, it’s worth examining to see not what you can do here, but what you can’t do as well anywhere else.

That said, it appears on first glance to be an exciting tool. I feel much the same as when I discovered Storify: A lot of potential here, but let’s not move in together just yet.

Here are some ways journalists can potentially use Quora. Some of these ideas, admittedly, go against what Quora seems to want to be. Frankly, I don’t care. These would be valuable uses for all participants, so there’s no reason to not explore them.

1) Crowdsourcing elements of your reporting. This is the obvious one. New on a municipal beat and wondering why it took the developer three years to get his hotel approved? Ask your readers and gadflies, and they’ll inform each other on the background as they simultaneously inform you.

On Quora, Chris Amico offered the example:

Getting actual answers (possibly from actual experts). For example, if I were writing a story on startups at SXSW, I might source What is the process involved in launching a startup at SXSW?.

What I like here is that when a reporter starts a topic here, users won’t be participating for the sake of informing the reporter, which is how crowdsourcing is most commonly (and sub-optimally) conducted, especially over Twitter. People will be participating here because it’s a productive conversation in itself, and the reporter simply gets to share in the benefits of what he or she started.

2) Ranking submissions. At TBD, we recently asked people to suggest New Years resolutions for Metro. We used All Our Ideas to have participants rank the submissions, and it worked pretty well.

If we did it again, Quora might allow participants to more directly rank the ideas by voting them up and down, while having the space to further elaborate on their ideas. It feels like a cleaner experience to me.

3) A community-written story. Start with the question: “What was your experience at The Rally for Sanity?” Or: “What did you think of the Courtney Love concert at the 9:30 Club last night?” Or: “What’s the best medium-priced place to take a date near Union Station?”

It says right in the directions at Quora that you’re not supposed to do this. Twitter also told us initially that we were supposed to tell it what we were doing right then. My hope is that Quora will loosen its tie a bit and this kind of valuable discussion will become part of the community.

The ranking system elevates this over the typical comment thread. Congrats to the blogs/news sites that have effective ranking systems, but most don’t.

That’ll get the ball rolling. What else ya got? Answer here or at the topic I started on Quora. There will likely be a lot of attention on the crowdsourcing aspect, but that’s the easy one. Let’s think past that.

UPDATE 12:20 p.m. 1/5/11: Lots of good ideas in that Quora topic, but I especially loved Joy Mayer‘s response:

There are some great answers here, and all of them focus on how Quora can benefit reporters. What about how reporters can benefit the Quora community? Reporters are subject matter experts who could do a lot of good shedding light on their topics. What if reporters were to give a little back by devoting some time to answers? Relationships go two ways.

I imagine smaller communities will develop within Quora. What if reporters fostered a group of people interested in their specific geographic community, and worked to recruit and sustain those members? It could become a hub of information about the community. If reporters are doing that on behalf of a news organization (no matter the size), they’re becoming part of the fabric of an information culture, whether it’s on their own site or not.