Quora tested against other Q&A sites

Image via FlickR coutesy of Dom Dada

London just discovered Quora, the new social question and answer site. During the last week I’ve gone from getting a handfull of Quora followers a month to one every twenty minutes. The service has exploded.

I imagine the uptake has been driven by a mixture of Twitter excitment and traditional offline media coverage of the start-up. Of course that’s combined with Quora offering an excellent service coupling social media Q&A with simple navigation.  And a further draw has been the often frank and detailed discussions on a variety of issues.

Whilst the way people use Quora may evolve, I have found myself asking: how well does it function as a Q&A site? So I decided to put it to the test. I took a simple question:

“Where is the Centre of London, England?”

and I compared the results across Google, Yahoo Answers, Ask Jeeves, True Knowledge, Bing and Quora. I first asked this question on Quora in May 2010. It took me six weeks to get two answers, both of which were incorrect. I tried again today:

Quora’s answer:
I recieved two replies within five minutes. Both were spot on, with David Quaid answering:
“The Centre of London, used for calculating distances from London to X, is South of Trafalgar Square, where the statue of King Charles I now stands.”
He also added an excellent link to a BBC article on the subject. Thanks David!

Yahoo Answers:
I got seven responses within 24 hours. They included two correct answers, two useless answers: “Def Oxford street” and “Centre Point on New Oxford Street”, and one amusing answer:

"it's between the n and the d"

"it's between the n and the d"

Google’s answer:
Google jumped in with a map at the top of the search results. Great anticipation. What a shame that it was a map of “The Centre” a shopping mall in Feltham.

Google's map of The Centre

Thankfully they redeemed themselves with three great text links to The BBC, Wikipedia and The Londonist. All of which state the right answer.

True knowledge:
“The worlds first Articifical Intelligence answering platform”. It claims to understand questions and then answer them and in 2010 was getting some great traction. Sadly it did not have an answer for me. I submitted the question to other users, but did not get an immediate response.  So I thought I would train the engine a little and see if it really could learn.

I added Charing Cross as a location in London. I didn’t mention anything about the centre of London, however the site instantly populated a page with facts about Charing Cross including that it is sometimes related to the search string “geographic centre of london”.

So perhaps once the database is updated, the system will indeed have taught itself the answer. This would be very clever. But there is little doubt, the crowd at Quora and the social aspect of that site is a more fun to be part of. This battle feels rather Kasparov v’s Deep Blue.

Ask Jeeves:
Ask prides itself as a site synonymous with questions and answers. Having scrolled past four irrelevant adverts, I was provided with some good links. The top 3 results where:
1. The Answer Bank (another Q&A site) had five responses to the quesiton. Half of them were wrong or misleading. One was spot on with some useful history thrown in to the mix.
2. Wikipedia’s Charing Cross page - this correctly pointed out the centre of London as the point now occupied by King Charles’ sculpture
3. The Londonist - also correctly naming the centre

Bing’s answer
Bing’s top three results were mixed at best. First up was Wikipedia which leads to the right answer. But for some reason the second result was The Docklands Equestrian Centre and the third the Business Design Centre. Way off course.

Conclusion on Quora
Not only was Quora the most fun to use, it also came up with the best set of answers (this time round, not six months ago). There is no doubt it’s one to watch in 2011.

How have you been using Quora? any ideas on how it will develop? Will it be bigger than Twitter?