Is Quora the biggest blogging innovation in 10 years?

I’ve now been blogging for 10 years. Looking back we haven’t seen all that much innovation for bloggers. You have a box. You type in it. Put an image into it. And hit publish. That’s much the same as the tools I had 10 years ago.

But now comes Quora.

I’m really loving it. I have a hard time explaining why. I’m not the only one, either.

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@Scobleizer I believe @quora is the future of blogging.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone

VC Shervin Pishevar says “I believe @Quora is the future of blogging.”


So what’s going on there?

First, look at the Quora items I’ve been participating in. This is a lot like a blog. But it’s not Dave Winer’s blog style. It’s any question I’ve followed, written in, voted up, etc.

So, what is the innovation here?

First, it learned from Twitter. Ask your users a question and they’ll answer it.

Second, they learned from Facebook. Build a news feed that brings new items to you.

Third, they learned from the best social networks. You follow people you like. But then they twisted it. You can follow topics. Or you can follow questions in addition to following people. This is great for new users who might not know anyone. They can follow topics.

Fourth, they learned from blogs about how to do great SEO. I’ve started seeing Quora show up on Google.

Fifth, they learned from FriendFeed, Digg, and other systems that let you vote up things. If you watch a question that has a lot of engagement you’ll even see votes roll in live. It’s very addictive.

Sixth, they brought the live “engagement display” that Google Wave had: it shows who is answering a question WHILE they are answering it.

Seventh, it has a great search engine for you to find things you are interested in.

Anyway, I find that there’s something addictive about participating over there instead of here on my blog. Why? Because when you see people voting up your answers or adding their own replies in real time it makes you realize there’s a good group of people reading your stuff. I don’t get that immediate rush here (here I have to wait for comments to show up, which isn’t nearly as immediate).

I notice that the same thing has me very excited about Instagram, too. When I look at other people’s photos I can see lots of people liking them and commenting on them in real time.

Will Quora kill blogging? No. Blogging has a business model for publishers that Quora does not provide yet (I don’t care about the business model so I’m free to go where the innovations are happening).

Thanks Quora for providing a great community and way for people to communicate about what’s interesting in their lives in a new way. That’s innovation in blogging.

By the way, even pro bloggers are using Quora. Today Techcrunch used Quora to find and report on Flickr in a new way (that isn’t the first time they’ve done that, either).

UPDATE: Mark Suster, VC, explains why he thinks Quora is significant.


Why 2011 isn’t 1995 for Apple

iPad ads everywhere

In 1995 I remember waiting in lines to buy Windows 95. It effectively ended the design lead Apple had for 11 years in personal computers. From then on Microsoft had both the thought leadership and the market share. Apple ended up with less than 10% market share. Microsoft had most of the rest.

Lots of people think that Apple could repeat 1995 in 2011. This time with iOS instead of Macintosh OS and with Google in the place of Microsoft.

We forget one little thing: 1995 was different.

Here’s how.

In 1995 Microsoft had a HUGE marketshare lead with DOS. That meant it had a huge army of developers who didn’t want to switch over to Apple’s system, which they saw as very closed and inflexible. I remember developers coming into the consumer electronics store I helped run in the 1980s and they’d complain bitterly about Apple’s policies (Apple was far less flexible back then than it is today and forced developers to fit into a “look and feel” set of guidelines).

But I look at who is making money. Back in 1995 developers were mostly making money from DOS. Remember, this caused WordPerfect and Borland to make bad bets. They bet on DOS for too long, while Bill Gates went and built some of the first and best Macintosh apps. The lesson, though, doesn’t pass from 1995 to 2011. Today where are most of the developers making their money? iOS (according to Sephora, Starbucks, OpenTable, eBay, and many other developers). So, Android has to convince developers to switch, or do both platforms at same time. That’s quite different.

Plus, back in 1995, who owned the best distribution and supply chains? Microsoft did. Today? Apple does. Apple didn’t have stores back in 1995 which will ensure its products get seen in the marketplace. Back then Microsoft could outspend Apple for shelf space at Frys and other retailers. Plus, Microsoft’s model of having many OEMs building hardware for its OS was far superior to Apple’s approach. Today that’s not really true, because the OEMs aren’t really able to bring that much value to the table and Apple has the best supply chains in China locked up (I visited one of them about two years ago and keep in touch with the folks there and that’s still the case). So, it’s not very likely that a Google phone will ship with better screens or better materials. At least not in volume. That is a huge difference from 1995 to today.

Inside the Paris subway

Other differences? Apple has outspent Microsoft on Advertising around the world. Look at this picture. It’s in Paris subway. Apple bought every square inch of advertising space (it bought the entire subway system’s advertising space, it seemed, iPad ads were plastered down the entire trackway). Google isn’t able to get its message there. That didn’t happen in 1995. Remember how dominant Microsoft’s advertising was back then? Microsoft even convinced the Empire State Building to change its colors that evening.

Let’s go back to how closed Apple is. Most apps this month got approved in less than a week. Some even got approved in less than four days. During the Christmas rush. Is this as good as Android’s (you can ship in minutes) policy? No. But, on the other hand, there are quality controls which consumers appreciate. The apps — overall — ARE better on iOS than on Android. Just check out TweetDeck. It crashes every few minutes on my Android phone. Twitter isn’t nearly as nice. Facebook isn’t as nice. And most apps aren’t as well designed, nor crash resistant, as on iOS.

I am sensing a switch, though. Fred Wilson is leading the charge. But other developers are grumbling about Apple and want there to be an alternative and they are all comparing notes with each other. “How’s Angry Birds doing with its advertising-only Android apps?” they ask. Very well, the answer comes back. So that means more developers will take the bet on Android, but so far I haven’t seen many go “Android only.” Why not? Because they know most of the PR comes from journalists who use mostly iOS devices and most of the best users are on iOS devices too (Sephora’s lead mobile developer told me 80% of the users who pull out a mobile phone in her stores are using iOS, that is echoed by nearly every developer I talk with). Even Swype, which has been kept from delivering their keyboard on iOS devices showed me a prototype of it running on an iPad and the inventor whispered “if Steve Jobs wants to talk, we’d love to ship this on iOS.”

So, when someone says that Apple is repeating the mistakes of 1995 (yes, I’ve been guilty of saying that in the past couple of years too) you should tell them that 2011 is not even close to the same set of conditions as 1995 has.

Fred Wilson and Fortune are right about Android vs iOS (and everyone else), but I hate it

Fred Wilson is recommending developers invest first in Android and Fortune has a similar article about why 2011 is going to be the year that Android explodes. Why? Market share. Android is about to really take off, his thesis goes.

They are both right. But I hate it. First, let’s talk about why they are right.

I’ve been playing with a Nexus S lately and it finally is “good enough” for me to recommend to family members and friends as a smart phone.

I’ve also had some quality time on the Samsung Galaxy Tab, iPad competitor. It, too, is competent and no longer has the kinds of problems that let me confidently warn my friends and family away from Android platform.

These devices are fast. They have most of the apps you’ll need (maybe not the sexiest ones, but most of the ones that you’ll need). A good web browser. Really good maps, contacts, and phone-handling apps. Etc etc.

Compare Android to every other platform and it stands up as the best choice. Yeah, I know, MG Siegler over at Techcrunch got close to recommending Windows Phone 7 to everyone (he’s an iPhone lover like myself) but notice how many major things he said sucked about that system. The Web browser sucks. The lack of apps sucks. The lack of integration into Google’s many excellent systems like Google Voice, Google Contacts, Google Mail, Google Calendar, or Google Maps sucks (I still don’t like Bing’s maps as much, and that’s the most competitive web service Microsoft has going in my view).

And Windows Phone 7 is superior to Nokia’s OS and RIM’s OS, which have even more significant problems to solve (bad user experiences, difficult developer systems, inadequate app stores, very few modern apps, etc).

So, if I take off my iPhone-loving-hat and look dispassionately at the field I see that 2011 is going to be a great year for Android, a moderately good year for Windows Phone 7, a struggling year for Nokia and RIM (unless they noticeably change the game), with a wildcard year for Palm/HP (we’ll know more about that in about a week, because they are announcing some stuff at CES).

So, what about iPhone? Well, there is one thing neither Fortune nor Fred Wilson are including in their analyses: the Verizon phone. It came up at dinner conversation last night with family members (who aren’t geeky and don’t read Techcrunch). There is a LOT of pent up demand for an iPhone on Verizon. If all the rumors about an iPhone on Verizon are true, that’ll give iPhone a big shot and continue keeping it in the top two of the superphone category (unfortunately Nokia has started calling a wide range of its phones “smart phones” which makes the term “smartphone” totally useless). Most people, when they think of a modern high-end phone are thinking of iPhone, Android (and only when put on a big screen phone like the Nexus S), Windows Phone 7, RIM, Nokia’s N8, etc. This is the only category of phones I care about. I really don’t care that in some poor country Nokia sold hundreds of millions of single-chip, small-screen phones that barely can use text features, not to mention have decent access to the web.

But I don’t see how Verizon will sell enough iPhones to keep it in the numbers race with Android.

Now to why I hate this.

In my usage of the Android-based Samsung Nexus S, I’ve found it’s still behind Apple’s iPhone in almost every way. Even AT&T is far superior to T-Mobile (T-Mobile doesn’t even work in my house and I live 16 miles from Silicon Valley. Arrrrgggh).

The iPhone is easier to use. Smoother, especially when scrolling tweets. More consistent UI. Better designed hardware (the Samsung is, while the best Android phone on market, according to Engadget, not even close to as well designed as the iPhone).

Plus, overall, the apps on both iPhone and iPad are still noticeably ahead of those on Android platform. Today.

Yes, I know both platforms have their fans. I’ve argued both sides of the argument with friends and family. The Android wins if you want Google integration. The iPhone wins if you want best overall experience.

But with the Nexus S Android has caught up to be “close enough” to iPhone that I can no longer confidently state that the best system is Apple’s.

Add price into that equation and I will be recommending Android to a wide range of people in 2011.

I hate that. Because it’s not the best designed device.

So, what can Apple do?

1. Push onto more carriers.
2. Lower price.
3. Come out with some major innovations, particularly for developers (if you haven’t watched my interviews with the smart people behind the funding of Siri, that was bought by Apple, you really should — that interview gives insights into what Apple could do this year to stay in the game. Part I. Part II).
4. Integrate further with other systems in the home. One of the demos of the iPad that gets everyone going is when I show off how to use my iPad as a remote control for my Apple TV.
5. Make a deal with Facebook. Normal people are ADDICTED to Facebook. Ever sit in a lobby at a restaurant and watch what people do on phones? I do. Facebook is #1 app by far. What if next iPhone had best-of-breed integration with Facebook?

Anyway, unless something major happens this year (it probably will, the world keeps speeding up) it looks like Android is gonna take off.

I hate that.

I sure hope Steve Jobs has one of those moments where he shocks the world again and keeps this game interesting. I sure would hate it if Google took over the world of mobile the way Bill Gates took over the world of desktops. And, yes, it sure does feel like early 1995 in the mobile world. So, Steve, what you got up your sleeve?

UPDATE: I did a followup to this post about why 2011 isn’t 1995 for Apple.