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Quora growth gets a boost

While collaborative question-and-answer site Quora has been around for a while, founded by ex-Facebook chief technical officer Adam D'Angelo, it's only in the last week that it has hit critical mass - but what does it offer its new users?

Quora promises to be a crowdsourced knowledgebase, offering a combination of the free-for-all attitude of Wikipedia and the Q&A format of Yahoo! Answers are all gelled together with a voting system reminiscent of UserVoice. It's a neat idea, but one that struggled to find users for quite some time after launch.

As time went on, and the site's hardcore group of early adopters added questions and answers to build up the content on the site, its popularity increased - before hitting a point over the past week where social networking sites including Twitter have been a-buzz with people discussing Quora, and site members' inboxes have been overflowing with follower notifications.

The site offers an interesting feature set to its users: anyone can ask a question, which can then be edited for clarity or summarised by any of the site's users. Like Wikipedia, there's the option to revert changes if someone isn't doing as they should - and users who represent a persistent pain can be blocked from editing or banned from the site.

When it comes to answers, the emphasis is placed on both quality and - unlike Wikipedia - the reputation of the person making the answer. Original research is encouraged, and it's heartening to see how many industry experts are pitching in to provide quality answers to the questions on the site.Like UserVoice, answers can be voted up or down, with the answers judged best by the community naturally rising to the top - and an option for users to create a generalised summary if the number of answers to a particular question gets overwhelming.

Despite the sudden boost in registered users over the last week, the site still has a significantly smaller user base than Wikipedia or Yahoo! Answers - but the quality of the community is undeniable. Users asking questions about the history of AOL might be surprised to find former chairman Steve Case answering their query, while a somewhat tongue-in-cheek question about the influence of TechCrunch's MG Siegler was answered by the man himself.

As the userbase grows, it's inevitable that the signal to noise ratio will decrease - something that can already be seen to be happening after the recent swelling in ranks, with significantly more badly-phrased and 'silly' questions appearing on the site. The collaborative and democratic nature of Quora, however, may help to keep the cream rising to the top - at least, that's the hope.

While many in the world of tech journalism are asking the question of whether Quora could steal users away from microblogging services such as Twitter - known by those who use it for asking quick questions as 'the lazy web' - the site is more likely to represent a threat to established Q&A services such as Yahoo! Answers.

Whether Quora can become the de facto standard destination for those looking to ask a question or offer their expertise on a particular topic will largely depend on whether it can tame its most recent influx of users - but signs are good, and the site is certainly one to watch.

Tags: techcrunch, quora, yahoo answer