Quora is becoming a buzzword and currently seems to be winning as the hot newbie of 2011. Many people may not yet have heard of it, but that is unlikely to stay the situation for very long. Answer engines seem to be the new thing and whilst many may use their close network to find answers, others are using Twitter, Facebook or the answer engines – Aardvark, Quora, Yahoo! Answers, Answerbag.com etc as alternatives to the search engines.
These could be all classified as people powered Q&A systems, but this would be missing out on many of the key values, and differences to the search engines.
Not only are many collaborative and changeable (just as a wiki is), but they are also recommendation engines so that the most popular answers rise to the surface. Compare this to the Google algorithm which no-one fully understands, and the discovery endeavour has made search engine optimisation a major industry!
Answers are grouped into topics, and searchable. On Quora each topic can be followed, bringing you a constant supply of new questions and answers on your favourite topics. For instance, there are topics or categories on Web Marketing, SEO and PPC and when you follow each topic, you will receive a notification of new questions and answers, either by email or simply when you log into the site.
There are going to be some downsides, inevitably, as more people come on board and duplicate previously answered questions, lowering the quality of the experience, but this is precisely what happens with forums (fora) and search engines too – how exactly do you get the answer you are seeking? However, Quora, in particular, has had the experts answering questions (for instance, Steve Case, Founder of AOL); yet this is now perhaps part of the cause for the backlash? Success never seems to sit well with human beings!
Whilst hard sell and blatant promotion is not permitted, there still remains the potential for any company employee to monitor and answer questions. The answers are indexable so each answer given can help your search engine rankings and exposure. Answer engines are likely to prove as valuable a traffic generator as forums over time, with answers on popular engines bringing in long-term traffic, and therefore and it would be wise to become accustomed to how they work, and assess what resources your company can make available to contributing to them.