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Indian overload: Much ado about the Quora conundrum
ADITYA MANI JHA  1st Jun 2013

Illustration by Megha Talukdar | Dev Kabir Malik Design

hen Adam D'Angelo and Charlie Cheever, two former Facebook managers, quit their jobs to found the question-and-answer site Quora, they intended to fill a gap which (they felt) Facebook and other social media like Twitter etc. failed to. In a 2011 interview with BostInno, D'Angelo said, "We thought that Q & A is one of those areas on the internet where there are a lot of sites, but no one had come along and built something that was really good yet." The problem with all of the alternatives, including but not limited to Facebook, was the sheer volume of frivolous and/or irrelevant data. A mainstream social networking site, in its existing forms, could never be a 'knowledge market' in the way Cheever and D'Angelo had envisioned.

By February this year, India had surpassed the U.S. to become Quora's top source of traffic, with 30.8% of all visitors. (The current figure is 38.5%) Ironically, this had a lot to do with the Facebook integration; India's burgeoning ranks of new Facebook users were taking to Quora. Also, as Nishit Jain's answer to "Why are there so many IITians (Indian Institute of Technology students) on Quora?" explains, "A lot of the initial users were on Quora for an exchange of information on solely technical (and engineering based) topics like ICPC (International Collegiate Programming Contest), IMO (International Mathematics Olympiad) and general start-up experience. Most innovations follow an S-curve and these guys were the early adopters." Imagine my surprise, then, to discover the maelstrom of controversy which the Indian presence of Quora had begun to generate.

David Stewart's answer to the question "What turns people off about Quora?" complained, "A lot of questions are starting to become dominated by Indian content and culture. (...) the general pop-culture topics are started to become dominated by Bollywood and Indian TV. I've introduced friends who have assumed Quora was an Indian word and this was an Indian site that native English speakers were starting to penetrate." So as long as American TV soaps and the fate of Angelina Jolie's mammaries dominate the real world and the Internet, things are alright. This and many other answers along similar lines culminated in the "locking" of India-related questions by Quora, after hundreds of responses by Indian-Americans and Indian college students in particular. Sanity did prevail, eventually, with a more rational debate on a separate, Topics page. Ariel Williams, in a post titled, "Too Many Indians? NO! Too much racism!" wrote, "Quora's mission is to share and grow the world's knowledge. Not American knowledge. Not your kind of knowledge. The world."

A few months back, I had been reading about the work done by online ethnographers, or 'netnographers'. These researchers study the evolution of online communities and cultures, and I'm positive that Quora's India adventures will tell us much about whether we're more likely to voice what might be perceived as a racist opinion online, as compared to the real world. Conversely, it would be interesting to know whether the propensity to take offence increases when you're not actually facing the offender.

For now, though, Kiran Badam's hilarious response collars the hypocrites in this mess admirably. "The solution for keeping Indians from flooding Quora is easy and USCIS (United States Citizenship & Immigration Service) has done this quite effectively over the years. Two words: "Quora Visa." (...) Quora H1-B ("You can answer only in one topic, which is your area of specialization."), Quora Green Card ("You can answer in multiple topics, but still cannot vote or comment.") and Citizenship ("After 5 years of filing paperwork and getting the Green Card, you can allow Indians to be naturalized as Quora citizens, which will allow them to have all the privileges other Quora users have, including voting and commenting.")"

 
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