★ An Algorithm to Measure “User Quality” on Quora

Like many bloggers, I am discovering the power of Quora‘s intelligent Q&A / organized blogging model. Today, following some recent skepticism about Quora’s ability to maintain content quality while growing, Quora founder Charlie Cheever wrote an informative and reassuring blog post about their plans for Scaling Up. There is, I find, an interesting nugget in there:

2) We’re developing an algorithm to determine user quality.  The algorithm is somewhat similar to PageRank but since people are different from pages on the web and the signals that are available on Quora are different from those on the web, it’s not exactly the same problem.  We’ll use this to help decide what to show in feeds, when to send notifications, and how to rank answers.

The question of user quality (others call it reputation, or influence, or reach…) is one of the key approaches to relevance on the Social Web, and while relevance is never entirely solved (e.g. search is only 10% done), none of the approaches I’ve come across so far are really insightful. Many startups (e.g. Klout, Peer Index…) have tried to build such a metric (with challenges and potential), but I think Quora is uniquely positioned to push this forward, for a few reasons:

  1. They really need it. They aren’t developing the algorithm as the product itself. Instead, they need it as a critical element of how content is distributed (ranked, if you wish) and stays useful on Quora.
  2. They have the data. Perhaps more importantly than the need, is access to the fundamental resource to feed the algorithm, and Quora have a ton of signals (in particular, individual users’ browsing/voting/commenting/answering patterns).
  3. They have the team (or will soon). Remains the question of the engineering team to create an algorithm that works, i.e. to transform the data into a metric for user quality. On this I can’t really judge, but I’m pretty sure they aren’t having a hard time recruiting the best in the Valley given their future prospects !

What do you think, does Quora have the right assets to crack this tough problem? Will it crumble under the lower quality of mainstream content, or manage to remain an intellectual community where meritocracy is maintained?

About Jean Friesewinkel

Jean is a Belgian engineer and Node.js developer. After 4 years in strategy consulting, Jean is now developing WiseRadar, a personalized news service designed to help startups grow their business. On Strategyist, he writes about web strategies and startups that change the world. He also loves sailing, cooking & photography.

21. January 2011 by Jean Friesewinkel
Categories: Algorithms, Innovation, Social | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 comment

One Comment

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