Quora: Questions, Answers, and More Questions

Quora is a new social media service that’s organized around questions and answers. So far, it’s pretty intriguing. The proto-web of the 1980s – Gopher, FTP sites, BBSs – was built around collectively-authored FAQs. I’m sure Google, Bing and Facebook all find that a most web searches are awkward attempts to convey in Boolean terms what you’d convey to a human in the form of a question. Ask Jeeves has always failed at natural-language processing, just like the giant mainframe EMERAC in the 1950s Hepburn/Tracy comedy Desk Set.

IBM is still hard at work at Watson, a computer smart enough to win on Jeopardy. Questionable PR move – everybody roots against Deep Blue. HAL was more sympathetic, and IBM disowned him. See  Electric Dreams for more on the history of computer advertising.

But Quora takes a different track, drawing on the crowdsourcing model of Wikipedia to develop one global database of FAQs. Further, it doesn’t attempt to iron out differences of opinion as Wikiprose demands, but rather embraces a diversity of voices and relies on the crowd itself to serve as collective gatekeeper by  rating each answer.

Who knows where this will go. But we may be seeing the formation of the next Google. Or Facebook. Or Pets.com – who knows. Ideally, it’ll become the next Wikipedia – one which embraces crowdsourcing, but also rewards both expertise and diversity, while engaging the crowd as both producer and gatekeeper.

So, I figure I might as well try to get in on the ground floor, or at least as close to the ground as you can get without ever having lived in California, pitched a venture capitalist or attended SXSW.

Here’s my answer to an ongoing discussion on Quora: Can information be empowering, and why?

The distinction between information and knowledge is like that between database and algorithm. (Also content v form, superstructure v base, syntagm v paradigm, & practice v theory, and logos v mythos.) Information without a contextualizing theoretical (and inevitably ideological) framework is just “data smog” or bloatware. We all have access to more information – in terms of pure bits – than any citizens of any society ever before us. Does that make us more powerful? Not necessarily, as long as we still remain trapped within ideological blinders, stale frames & obsolete paradigms. Information becomes powerful – revolutionary, in fact – when it inspires and fuels paradigm shifts: from feudalism to capitalism, from monarchy to democracy, and hopefully from postmodernity/late-capitalism/corporate-globalization/scientific-rationality/phallogocentrism to transmodernity/postcapitalism/the-commons/dialectics&alchemy&mythos&logos

I also started a new question: How do you teach game studies in a 30-student classroom?

I’m developing a new media studies class for undergraduate media studies majors. In small 8-15 student seminars I teach game design by playing and then discussing board, card and party games like TransAmerica, Apples to Apples and Werewolf. In large lecture classes so far I’ve assigned students to download and play the World of Warcraft demo, I’ve set up presentations where students demo games for the class, and I’ve given students the option of writing about games on their final essays. But I miss the opportunities for playtesting and examining strategy tweaks and rules variations that I had in the old seminars.

On Quora you can choose to “follow” other users, just like Twitter. If you let it, Quora will scan your Facebook friends to find people to follow. Here’s what I wrote to my Quora followers:

Hi Quora Followers –

I’m sending this post to let you know I’ve now both answered an existing question and asked a new one.

I answered the question: “Can information be empowering, and why?” If you find the answer helpful, please consider voting it a thumbs-up, or whatever they call the little up-pointing triangle to the left of each answer.

I also asked my first question: “How do you teach game studies in a 30-student classroom?” If you have any thoughts on the subject, please consider answering. And if you check out the posted answers, please vote for your favorites.

I’m brand-new at this, but already intrigued. Thanks for the follows!


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