Quora Does What Every Website Wants To Do: Engage Users

I've been reading about Quora.com for some time now, but a few weeks ago I finally got an invite to participate in their closed beta. For those who don't know, Quora is a Q&A site with some social networking functionality built in to make it like Facebook or Twitter, but with much richer content. You can post and answer questions, vote responses up and down and comment on them, and follow a range of different topics, questions and people.

But the one thing Quora does exceedingly well is engage its users. I find myself wanting to visit the site every day. There are very few sites I do in fact visit every day, so when a new one comes up on my radar, it's worth thinking about a little more deeply. How does Quora keep me coming back?

First, they give me things to do when I get to the site. The first page I see when I log in is my "feed," essentially a list of questions and recent answers from the people and topics I'm following. The first thing I always do then is scan my feed and see if any interesting questions or answers have come up recently. If so, I click on them, read and vote on the responses, and consider whether I want to answer the question.

Another activity they ask of me is to classify unanswered questions. If someone enters a question without any topics, it shows up on my home page as an "Unorganized Question." If I click on it I can then easily add topics to the question, which benefits the community as a whole without being too bothersome for me to do.

Lastly, Quora has perfected the art of email notifications. Whereas Facebook sends me an email for every dumb little thing that needs my attention, Quora, as far as I can tell, only sends me emails in a two specific circumstances:

  • Someone posts an answer to a question I am following (you can follow any question you see on the site by clicking the "Follow" link, unless you asked the question, in which case you follow it by default)
  • Someone sends you a private message

This means that the email load coming from Quora is low enough to keep it unobtrusive, but the emails themselves are of high enough value that I welcome them and will likely click on the links in them to come back to the site.

User engagement is the "holy grail" of making websites profitable, and Quora has found it. It's all about giving the users activities to accomplish when they come to the site, as well as encouraging them to come back via infrequent but high value email notifications. If you'd like an invite so you can check this out for your self, let me know by tweeting me @jamieforrest.

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