Don't ask him anything

Quora is adding verification checkmarks and Barack Obama gets the first one

March 24, 2014
March 24, 2014

Following in the footsteps of other social media services like Twitter and Facebook, Quora is adding “verified user symbols to the profiles of certain public figures. The first person get one will be president Barack Obama, who will use the service to answer questions about the Affordable Care Act today. We’ve written about how Quora could be the future of the press release, but this is an even bigger effort to break into the mainstream.

According to Quora head of communications Alex Wu, the platform has seen more public figures join in the past year than ever before, which prompted the rollout of verification.

“Questions were starting to get to the top of Quora, like is this really Michael Buble answering questions, is this really Jeremy Lin?” Wu says. “Starting to see this trend, we said hey, that’s just going to happen more and more. We should probably build a more scalable way for people to have trust and confidence in these accounts.”

Reddit offers a massive audience for question-and-answer sessions on its popular AMA (ask me anything) section. There, public figures prove it’s really them by linking to the page from their verified-social media accounts. The president did a popular and well-received Q&A session on Reddit during last year’s election campaign; his AMA got more than 5 million page views. Reddit as a whole has more than 100 million monthly unique visitors. Quora doesn’t disclose traffic numbers.

For a topic like health-care policy, though, Quora makes more sense as a platform. Questions on Quora tend to come up more often on general web searches than those on Reddit—probably because in many Quora posts, the question serves as the post’s headline, which makes search engines like Google latch on to it. That means Quora is good for “evergreen” topics like health care, where people may stumble on an answer long after it was posted .

Here’s a list from Quora of some of the people that will have verified profiles:

Wu argues that the diversity of the list means Quora has lot of growth potential. “We’re pretty much evenly split between business and technology, entertainment, politics and current events, life advice, and a fifth category of miscellaneous other interests,” he says.

One worry is that verified accounts may dilute the value of other content on Quora. Unlike on Reddit, where users choose when to offer an AMA, Quora users can be asked by other users to answer any question. The fear is that people might flood well-known figures with questions, taking away attention from deep answers on esoteric topics by knowledgeable people who are less well-known. On the other hand, Quora allows any user to answer any question and promotes the answers that get the most votes—so a celebrity who posts a mediocre answer might find herself upstaged by someone else. It will be interesting to see how things play out.

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