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The dark side of Quora!

Last week, Quora announced that 100 million user accounts were compromised, including private activities like downvotes and direct messages, by a “malicious third party.”

Data breaches are a frustrating part of the lifecycle of every online service – as they grow in popularity, they become a bigger and bigger target. Nearly every major online service has had a security breach – Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, Tumblr, Uber, Evernote, eBay, Adobe, Target, and Sony all extensively have faced data breach in the last few years.

Security breaches like these are a strong argument for using a password manager, but not a compelling reason to avoid a service you love, unless you plan to quit the internet entirely.
But this does seem like a good time to remind you of all the other reasons why you should never, ever use Quora.

 

Quora is accumulating knowledge

Four years ago, Eric Mill wrote about Quora’s tendency to accumulate knowledge, and nothing’s changed since. According to their ‘About’ page, “Quora’s mission is to share and grow the world’s knowledge.” With 300 million monthly users, and nearly 40 million questions asked so far, they’re doing a good job of growing the world’s knowledge, but a terrible job of sharing it.
All of Quora’s value is derived from the answers provided by its users, and they go to great lengths to make a well-designed platform for finding and replying to questions.
But they do everything they can to make sure you can’t get those contributions back out.

Quora has –

* No public API
* No backup or export tools
* Restricted access to answers without an account
* Blocked scrapers and unofficial APIs, and deleted questions related to scraping on their site

 

Contrast that with Q&A competitors like Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange, which offer an API, a wealth of user-made tools and support community for it, a powerful Data Explorer for querying and exporting data, a liberal crawling policy, and do not attempt to hide questions and answers behind authentication. They even proactively upload anonymized data dumps of all user-contributed content to the Internet Archive for posterity under a Creative Commons license.

If you want to be generous, you could argue that it’s not a priority for them to build features like an API or export tools, especially as they’re still struggling to make money.

But for years, Quora has also explicitly forbidden the Internet Archive from indexing their site. Quora could do literally nothing, and the Internet Archive would actively preserve the work of their millions of users for the future, but they’ve chosen to exclude their site from being archived.

In their robots.txt file, they elaborate on why they block the Wayback Machine, claiming they do it to protect their writers.

People share a lot of sensitive material on Quora – controversial political views, workplace gossip and compensation, and negative opinions held of companies. Over many years, as they change jobs or change their views, it is important that they can delete or anonymize their previously-written answers.

We opt out of the wayback machine because inclusion would allow people to discover the identity of authors who had written sensitive answers publicly and later had made them anonymous, and because it would prevent authors from being able to remove their content from the internet if they change their mind about publishing it. As far as we can tell, there is no way for sites to selectively programmatically remove content from the archive and so this is the only way for us to protect writers. If they open up an API where we can remove content from the archive when authors remove it from Quora, but leave the rest of the content archived, we would be happy to opt back in.

The Internet Archive is a historical archive of the public internet, and Quora asking for the ability to selectively modify their archives is absurd. The Internet Archive inadvertently acts as a contingency for every startup’s short-sighted business plan, disastrous pivots, or acquisitions gone awry. When you run a social platform with content generated by the community, you have a larger responsibility not to burn their collective work to the ground. Part of that responsibility is participating in the web, and giving back what you take from it.

Nearly ten years after its founding, Quora’s long-term prospects are still uncertain. They’ve raised over $225 million in four rounds of funding, most recently an $85 million Series D in April 2017 at a $1.7 billion valuation.

Their self-serve ad platform launched last year is yet to report earnings. This is the first time in its nine-year history that it has made any money at all, which is better than nothing, but the sustainability of its model is still a question mark.

At some point, the investors who dumped a quarter billion dollars into it will want a return on that investment. Last year, founder Adam D’Angelo indicated they expect to eventually IPO. But market conditions, combined with the results of their ad platform, may force them in different directions – a pivot, merger, or acquisition are always a possibility.

When Quora shuts down, and it will eventually shut down one day, all of that collected knowledge will be lost unless they change their isolationist ethos.