Cue The Future


"I'm living in the future, so the present is my past" -Kayne West


A broader take on Quora

Quora is a new startup, founded by talented ex-facebookers, which is currently the topic of much discussion and investor lust. It is a Q&A based product that has done a great job of getting intelligent people asking and answering questions.

I am not a Quora power-user, but I do spend a few hours a week on the service consuming information, and actively contribute when I feel I have something to add. It’s a fantastic product/service that I’ve used to learn a lot of great information. If the Quora elevator pitch sounds like Yahoo Answers, it’s not. The difference is that Quora has done a damn good job of getting the right users to date and building tools that encourage them to participate.

Yahoo Answers (and similar services from that era) thought of themselves as platforms for users to find someone willing to answer or research on their behalf — this did a good job of getting mediocre to bad people involved in answering questions, usually for some reputation or monetary benefit. In contrast, Quora aggregates people around interesting questions and lets experts contribute as questions get traction. I think this is because Quora positions itself far differently from the find a decent answerer or researcher, here’s a quote from a Quora founder on how they think about the product’s value proposition:

I don’t think it’s any one thing, but it’s a bunch of little things. Part of it is the right audience. Instead of just Q&A, we think about this as blogging. Some people call it inverse blogging or reverse blogging. When you write a blog post, you write to your audience. When you write on TechCrunch, you know that these people are expecting techie news about startups.

When you come to a question page on Quora and it’s blank there are a bunch of people waiting for the answer. An expert will look at it and say “there’s an audience here and I know exactly what they want to hear. And I actually know about this stuff, or know enough to research and produce a really interesting piece of content, and it’s going to go to the perfectly targeted audience who opted in to hearing about this.”

The product reflects this view, questions are never really finalized or answered, they are simply active or not. The fact that each answer contains the ability to suggest edits, and that each question has a wiki summary are two components of this shining through. The feed structure is effective at effectively reflecting how active a question is and encourages engagement (and re-engagement) with answers to the most interesting questions.

I’m planning on posting a deeper look at why Quora might be a better blogging platform later this week, which is one of the reasons I love the service. I may also look at some other interesting use cases. If you’d like to help me (and others!) learn more about what makes Quora special, Answer “Why do you love Quora” as a question on the site. If you need an invite, let me know in the comments.

*Fun Question: Replace Yahoo Answers in paragraph three above with Mahalo Answers, does the analogy still work?

    "Presence not Presents"

    …is something my dad used to say all the time when trying to corral the dispersed Willis children into giving up their “way to busy for family” lives for a few days and making a communal trek somewhere for a very untraditional Christmas. We were usually pretty successful in making this holiday a fun one, but that’s neither here nor there, since I’m not going to be talking about any of that in this post. It’s just a nice story.

    Instead, I want to talk about presence as it pertains to recording who you are online. I’m not talking about branding or building reputation here, but rather presence in the most pure expression: participation. As Malcolm Forbes once said, “Presence is more than just being there.”

    Just as a sulky family member at Christmas is worse than an absent one–an online friend who seems uninterested in interacting with you unless it benefits them, worse then someone who abstains from hanging out with you on the interwebs.

    I love when people create a hub for you to look for interactions with them. Some Examples:

    • My friend, Andrew Hyde, lists very clearly on his site most of the things he’s working on (Startup Weekend, VC Wear) and provides a good bio and links to his profiles on different web services. If you spend 20 minutes on his site, I guarentee you’ll find something to strike up a chat with him about next time you see him.
    • My friend, Ben Casnocha, has a slightly more “company” version of essentially the same thing. He’s a little more conscious of creating a brand for himself so the site reflects that. At it’s core it’s similar to Andrew’s site, a hub for “all things Ben.” You can find out what he’s thinking about from his blog, find his accounts (twitter, FB,, etc.), even sign up for a newsletter digest he send out (which is very good incidentally).
    • New Friend, Amit Gupta, will probably serve as inspiration for me in building this site. He hosted smaller projects on his domain, instead of a separate domain. Talk about centralization! Of course, once projects hit a certain size, it needs to be spun out, but while it’s a baby idea – why not let it live at home?
    • This site now has tons of information about me. Not sifted, carefully chosen and cleared information – but rather a bevy of information about who I am and what I do. So does my Facebook profile.

    So, if real presence is equal to participation — it only makes sense that your online presence should reflect all your participation. I used to think it was a good idea to create a separate corporate web page that can be separated from my personal page and cleaned of any personality so that I can be sure I’m not making the wrong impression, but likely because of that I ended up making no impression at all.

    The alternative is, I can build a hub that is open, inviting, and full of possible talking points that may drive interactions. That’s how I’ve decided to go about it this time around.

    I’ve created this as a web hub, and while it’s not complete, tonight I am working on building a Facebook Hub using pages. Since I use Facebook so frequently, it seemed logical to have an aggregation of data like events, groups, stories, etc. using one of FB’s most robust tools. So here’s my page, it should stay up to date with community projects I’m working on and events I’m putting on. Fan me on Facebook if you want infrequent updates about this stuff.

    I’ll continue to build out both my Facebook page and this website with as much information as possible, until I’m documenting almost all my online participation, as a way of extending my digital hand to you for what might be the start of a beautiful future.

    About the Author

    Tyler Willis is the Vice President of Business Development at Unified, which builds enterprise marketing technology for brands and agencies.

    This blog is about how the future will affect technology, marketing, and the things we care about most. Learn more about Tyler.


    Tyler is a featured speaker and instructor for The American Marketing Association, and is a popular speaker on topics related to social marketing and how technology is changing our lives.

    Recent engagements:
    - South by Southwest
    - American Marketing Association
    - TMP Directional Marketing Client Summit

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    Lightweight Update

    I write infrequent (quarterly at most), semi-formal updates of what I'm doing and thinking.