Class 14
May 13, 2010

Future of email: Ron Chung

Does email still play a role in personal communications today, with the emergence of the social networking sites?

  • Archived Internet communications, with persistent data storage and search capability
  • Emails can be split into folders for information organization
  • Activities are stimulated via email notifications, such as Groupon purchases.
  • Accumulate information from all sites rather than visit them individually.
  • Lacks audio, video (Skype), and social (Facebook, LinkedIn) attributes.
  • Emails are a continuous stream, and there is less sense of priority.
  • Emails should be sorted via relevance, urgency, and automatically stored in folders.

Start-ups to assist the email management

Xobni: A Microsoft Outlook plugin to help searching and organizing the inbox.
A quick demo for Xobni features:

Seriosity: Introduce virtual currency for senders to weigh their emails and for receivers to prioritize the importance.
A short demo on how Attent can help you:

Rapportive: A simple social CRM built into Gmail.


Engagement in Quora

Content linked to identity allows for better answers
  • Public identity allows transparency, which in most cases increase the credibility of the answer
  • Users are now held accountable for content they post, meaning inflammatory or irrelevant responses are implicitly discouraged
  • Can make question/answer more of a discussion, rather than a one-way flow of information

Social network; discovery through following people
  • Publicly available identities drive discovery through following people
  • Since interesting people follow interesting topics, Quora encourages discovering new content by following users who are interesting or share the same interests as you
  • A friend recommending a topic to you is more effective than a website recommending a topic
  • Initially, bootstrapping your interests using the interests of your friends is more effective than finding topics yourself

Is Quora a discussion site or a reference site?
  • Quora wants to be a reference, but currently uses a discussion-based interface
  • Seems to lean toward discussion, as replies are linked to identities and therefore encourage directed answers and the mindset that an answer is an opinion, rather than a reference
  • Also due to the fact that most questions on Quora tend toward the opinion type ("Why is _ so popular", "How did become so successful", "What is the best __"); this means Quora can provide answers to questions that aren't purely factual and would not be found on sites such as Wikipedia
  • Lots of unanswered questions currently means a lot of sifting to find an answer, whereas a reference should be quick and direct
  • Check out the topic "How is Quora different from X?" in Quora to see how others are thinking

90/9/1 phenomenon somewhat limits the variety of content
  • 90% never contributes; 9% contributes a little, and 1% accounts for almost all the actions
  • More details about the 90-9-1 rule and a closely related concept, the power law distribution
  • A select group of users seem to drive Quora (co-founders and friends); they have a lot of friends and answer a lot of questions
  • The high quality of answers comes at the cost of variety; a question may have only one or two real opinions
  • Popular notion that wisdom is in crowds; is it that the crowd as a whole has wisdom, or that individuals in the crowd have wisdom? Quora seems to be more of the latter for now

Quora encourages a "learning" attitude instead of a "look-up" attitude
  • Wikipedia hole - inter-related topics, questions, and user networks encourage the Wikipedia hole mindset, where one question indirectly leads to many other questions (and lots of time spent)
  • Services such as Yahoo Answers and Aardvark do not support following topics, which means it is much harder to discovery related content
  • Following topics allow users to discover content they would not have thought to search for

Endorsements can bias selected responses
  • Endorsements on Quora allow users to endorse other users and answers
  • Don't seem to be used all that much
  • Perception that popular users can use endorsements to drive bias of content (popular user upvotes an answer, their friends upvote an answer, etc)

How is Quora Going to Scale?

Currently primarily concentrated in Silicon Valley
  • Quora is currently a closed beta; its user base is primarily composed of co-founders and various degrees of their friends
  • Much of the user base tends to be Silicon Valley, tech, entrepeneurship types
  • Content expertise unbalanced - huge amounts of tech and startup expertise vs very little expertise on other non-professional interests

Can Quora expand like Facebook?
  • Tight networks with loose ties in between networks facilitate effective expansion; Facebook used this model, where universities represented very tight networks and friendships between people at different schools represented loose ties
  • Imitating this model may encourage quick growth, but Quora doesn't have natural tight groupings as Facebook does
  • Topics may represent the best choice for tight groupings, but a particular topic represents a soft grouping (a topic is related closely to several other topics, which are related closely to other topics, etc) and so may not as effective a model as Facebook's universities were

Can geography act as a proxy for interest in startups?
  • Can Quora find geographically-based tech-savvy and intellectual populations in which to concentrate expansion efforts? (New York, Boston, etc)
  • Quora's current users mostly joined because a friend invited them, so spreading by word-of-mouth (and correspondingly, geographically to some extent) is a proven model
  • Geographically relevant content, such as industry or city life, will definitely benefit from local user bases
  • Perhaps geographical regions can represent the tightly knit networks in the Facebook expansion model

Snapshots from class discussions.

Speed dating

Pairwise 2 * 2 min
3 distinct groups
Why am I proud about my project?
What is hard about it and how did I cope? Insights

Time matters!
Hour of a day
  • Most people consume data, i.e. click links, in the morning when people start working, and at nights when people are off work.
  • The lowest consumption occurs when people are driving back home.
Day of a week
  • Links that survive 7-8 days tend to be generated on Thursday or Friday.
  • Most links that survive 2-3 days are created on Monday or Tuesday.
Suggestions for content generator:
Post your links at 7 am or 7 pm on Thursdays and Fridays.

For next Thursday: Esther Dyson

Listen to mp3 of Digital Exhibitionism
Post insightful question on FB, top three questions will be answered in class

IdeasProject, Dogfood


Leo Kung
Joseph Lau