I'm new to Quora, a site frequented by my friend Amanda Tendler. Quora is a site where you are free to type up answers to questions that people throw online. I guess you can think of it as a lightweight social network coupled with the sort of freewheeling crowdsourcing that you'd normally associate with a site like Yahoo! Answers.
When you sign up for Quora and give the site some information about your likes and dislikes, you'll start to receive emails containing questions for you to answer on the site. You're free to give these questions a pass, as I've done with most of the questions that have come my way. If you do answer a question, it's likely that you won't be the only person responding to it.
A question finally arrived that I felt I could answer:
How long would you remain conscious if you materialized (à la Star Trek) or if you "jumped" (à la Battlestar Galactica) inside solid rock?
So I answered the question, being the seventh person to do so, and also having the distinction of providing the longest, most comprehensive answer. Quora tacks a view count to each question, and it also has other social-network-y features like up-voting and commenting. My question started off with only one or two views; my rivals' questions had a head start with 100-plus views. Visits arrived at a slow trickle.
A few weeks later, though, and my Quora answer to the above Star Trek/Galactica question now reigns supreme! The score:
Kevin: 487 views
Joseph V.: 117 views
Joan M.: 87 views
David M.: 161 views
Drezner D.: 208 views
Robb R.: 121 views
C. Stuart H.: 76 views
I was shocked to see how much my answer had shot up in the ranks, and I can now understand why some people plug away at providing answers to questions on Quora. Who wouldn't want to be known as a guru of sorts? Quora definitely feeds the reward center of your brain in much the same way that a good video game will.
But I don't think I'm cut out for a career as a Quora guru. Part of the reason is that 99% of the Quora questions I receive via email really don't interest me. The other reason is that, when a question does interest me, I check out the other answers to that question first in order to decide whether I'm going to write my own. If it seems to me that other folks have said everything that I might say, then I don't feel any need to repeat what's already been said. In the case of my Trek/Galactica answer, I thought through the problem a bit more thoroughly than had the other respondents, most of whom went on the assumption that beaming/jumping contained no safety measures.
Because the questions that appear on Quora generally seem to come from a place of genuine curiosity (there may be silly, cynical, or stupid questions, but I have yet to see these), I suspect that the most popular Quora answers are those that demonstrate care and thoughtfulness. I wanted to respect the geeky curiosity of the person who had submitted the sci-fi question and, being a bit of a sci-fi geek myself, I did my best to take the question seriously.