Quora - win or fail? A User Experience study

I recently was asked to check out Quora again. This time from a UX standpoint. I found a lot of strange design decisions and an almost crazy implementation of "Gamification" so I thought I had to share it: Quora logo

First Impression

What does this do? Quora is a mess of questions. That's a good thing. But it's also a mess of features. There is no real overview to how the service is supposed to be used nor how the features fit together to create a whole. It feel like a mess of somewhat related features that have been randomly added to a wiki.

User feedback loops

All services and products intended to be used more than once work because their is a loop in user interaction. After we've done what we came for we're back at the start and can do it again.

Feedback loops is a way to look at how feedback is introduced in the loop to keep users going forward and using the product. Quora does this really strangely.

There are two ways to understand what happens in a loop, one is to look at emotional impact or internal steps in the process from the point of view of the user. This is called the intrinsic loop. The other is to look at the service's constructed steps from the point of the user. This is called the extrinsic loop.

Intrinsic

The value in looking at both of these is to see where they meet and reinforce each other. So how does the intrinsic loop look?

answer questions -> gain social proof in form of replies, votes and followers -> answer ranks higher on lists of answers -> return

This loop works well. Interacting with the site gives you a sense of communicating with other users. Though notifications are bad and it's hard to really understand what is happening, there is a definite sense of activity spawned from other users interacting with your content.

Extrinsic

So how does the extrinsic feedback loop look?

Add information (unidentified) -> earn points -> use points to request answers -> no return

Basically it adds points but not to obvious steps in the loop. In fact, Quora only seems to add points for adding information. But Quora doesn't tell us why, how much or for what we earn these points.

This is an extrinsic loop set up to give users rewards for interacting that doesn't reward user for interacting. What went wrong here? Quora is giving out points for interacting with Quora, but not with other users.

The problem is humans don't think of services as independent entities and don't expect to interact with services, humans expect to interact through services. Another problem is that these rewards aren't reinforcing the intrinsic loop but instead starts rewarding an entirely different behavior. And last but not least, there is no clear end or way to start again from when you receive rewards. Rewards are doled out in the middle of the intrinsic feedback loop.

Gamification or What Bumblebees feel about Bicycles

Points. Just add points and it's a game. Just add points and the weird statistical exercise has miraculously turned into "fun"! Right? No. That's not how it works, you can read all about how to add the fun here. But Quora doesn't care about that, you get points for adding content but aren't told when or how much. There doesn't seem to be a differentiation between how you add content, you simply receive an arbitrary amount of points.

There's only one way to use points. You can pay others to answer questions. That's it. You can't even compare your points to another users.

Quora app icon

Summing up

Quora is awesome. What makes it awesome is the high level of interest from other users. The problem is, Quora does little of anything to enhance this. More often it gets in the way.

The service quickly became famous for supplying answers from high level CEOs and business savvy high performers. Sadly though, it took me hours to find any such answer. It took me hours just to find some interesting questions.

The random points thrown in just increases perception of randomness. Quora is a great idea, close to a good product. Over designed and under thought. It's confusing as hell and weird to use. But if you're lucky you can at least get some answers. Just don't expect the question to be the same one you had in mind from the start...