As a Web ops guy, I’ve used the Stack Exchange sites, especially Server Fault, a lot. They’re the best place to go do technical Q&A without having to go immerse yourself in a specific piece of open source software and determine what bizarre way you’re supposed to get support on it (often a crufty forum, mailing list with bizarre culture, or an IRC channel).
However, they have started to, in my opinion, come apart at the seams. They started with the “holy trinity” of Stack Overflow (coders), Server Fault (admins), and Super User (users). But lately they have expanded their scope to sites for non-techie areas, but have also started to fragment the technical areas. So now if I have a question, I am confronted with separate communities for Server Fault, Linux & UNIX, Ubuntu, and more. Or even worse, Stack Exchange vs. “Programmers” vs language specific lists. This basically heavily segments the population and leads to the same problems that the weird little insular mailing lists have. It makes me use the SEs a lot less. I don’t want to have to somehow engage with 10 different communities to answer my everyday questions (and I sure as hell am not going to follow 10 to answer questions), so in my opinion they are cannibalizing their success and it will implode of its own weight and become no better than any Internet forum site.
Recently I started seeing tweets about Quora from @scobleizer, and it said stuff like “is it the future of blogging?” and was being pitched as some twitter-blog hybrid which of course caused me to ignore it. But then it started getting a lot more activity and I thought I’d go check it out. But if you go to the Quora page, you can’t see anything without logging in. And of course if you log in with Twitter or Facebook it wants “everything from you and your friends, ever.” So I wandered off again.
Finally I gave in and went over and logged in, and it’s actually pretty neat – it’s Q&A, like Stack Exchange, but instead of segmentation into different sub-communities, it uses the typical tag/follow/etc. Web 2.0 paradigm. So “Stack Exchange plus Twitter” is probably the best analogy. Now on the one hand that more unmanaged approach runs the risk of becoming like “Yahoo! Answers” – utter crap, full of unanswered questions and spammers and psychos – but on the other hand, I like my topics not being pushed down into little boxes where you can’t get an answer without mastering the arcane rules of that community (like the hateful Cygwin mailing list, where the majority of new posters are chased off with bizarre acronyms telling them they are using email wrong). The simple addition of up/down voting is 80% of the value of what SE gives over forums, so will that carry the day?
Now maybe it’s because they’re having capacity problems, but the biggest problem with Quora IMO is that you don’t get to see any of it when you go there until you log in and give them access to all your networks and whatnot, which I find obnoxious. But if they fix that, then I think given the harmful direction SE is going, it may be the next big answer for Q&A.