I hate to admit this, but I don’t do much with Quora. I’ve been a member for less than a year and follow only 6 topics—a haphazard collection that covers only the narrowest slice of my interests—as well as about 75 people I seem to have pulled at random from my Twitter feed. I’ve never asked a question nor answered one or even voted up a single answer.
And yet every week, without fail, the most interesting email that lands in my Inbox is the Quora Weekly Digest. It’s a simple email, just 5 Quora questions along with the first hundred words of the “best” answer. But what makes the Quora Weekly Digest so awesome is that those 5 questions were chosen just for me, and every week at least one of them teaches me something I didn’t even know I wanted to learn.
Last week, for example, I learned why so many white people who study Chinese hate a white Chinese-speaking television character named Dashan. The best answer, which examines the hatred of Dashan from several different angles, was written by Dashan himself, Canadian Mark Rowswell. “There has always been something of a Mr. Rogers quality to the Dashan character,” he writes. “He’s such a nice guy you sometimes wish he’d make a cameo appearance in a horror movie just so you could watch him get ripped to shreds, and then replay it over and over on YouTube.” I was immediately sucked in.
In a perfect world, all the weekly emails I receive would be this interesting. There’s no doubt my overabundance of curiosity makes me more receptive to an email full of trivia and minutiae, but I think every site that sends out regular emails could learn a thing or three from Quora.
Less Is More
Quora doesn’t try to cram everything in. 5 articles is all it takes—and all that anyone has time to scan in their Inbox.
High Quality Content
The best answers (as determined by the Quora community) are really, really good. Quora’s ability to get authors, experts, or celebrities to answer questions about their work makes their content some of the most interesting stuff on the web today.
Relevance is Everything — But it’s also Relative
The thing that impresses me most about the Quora Weekly Digest is how it surfaces so much interesting content while knowing comparatively little about me. Even if only 1 of the 5 articles is a home run, that’s still better than almost any other site I interact with. I’ve rated nearly 1000 movies on Netflix, for example, and wouldn’t say that 1 out of 5 of its suggestions are super interesting to me. (A problem that I can sympathize with.)
I’m very curious about the algorithm Quora uses to pull this content. Few of the topics in my Quora Weekly Digest are in categories I follow, but they’re still great. Fuzzy matching, or are they getting lucky? Something like the match.com algorthim perhaps?
But alas, not everything can be perfect. There are still a few ways Quora could improve my favorite newsletter.
Stop Including Content from my Network
Almost all the duds in my Quora Weekly Digest turn up because someone I follow participated in the thread. They’re a smart and diverse set of people, but just because I follow someone doesn’t mean every answer they post is insightful or interesting. Social content is a fad right now, but the algorithms have to get better or it’s just useless clutter.
Stop Trying to be Facebook. Or LinkedIn. Or worse, Google+
As I was writing this, Quora switched up their email format to put a list of “People You May Know” at the top of the email. WE GET IT ALREADY!