Quora – The Journey So Far

I woke up one morning and had a few minutes to kill before my 10 AM lecture. The one good thing about being in 4th year is that we don’t have those annoying 8 AM electives anymore. Even better, we have 9 AM classes just 2 days a week! So, in search of something to do to kill those few minutes, I decided to wake my laptop up from its slumber. I removed the heap of clothes piled up on my chair and made myself comfortable as the laptop groaned into operation (A malfunctioning fan makes my laptop sound like a car’s ignition. I swear I have even heard it change gears!).

Out of habit, I opened the 3 customary tabs in my browser – Quora, Facebook and Gmail (precisely in that order) and started the day by browsing through my notifications when this realisation hit me. Very soon (and I am pretty sure this will happen), 4 of my answers* will cross the 1k up-vote mark with the most popular one fetching 6k+ (and counting)! How does this make me feel? Happy, but not ecstatic. Most of my top content has either been a re-share of jokes or popular memes that I came across during my random walks over the internet. My speculation regarding the large chunk of votes that these answers have managed to garner is that I was the really lucky proverbial “early bird”. Almost all of the 4 answers were written when their respective questions were relatively new. From what I have observed since joining Quora, unless the question is sensational, it needs some time before it can gain visibility and attract some good answers that set it apart from its contemporaries (in most of the cases, it might also need some credit-fuelled promotions )! Fortunately for me, the threads started to gain followers after my content had been posted!

But, I believe there is much more to Quora than that. This thought had been drifting in-and-out of my mind for quite some time before I finally resolved (part of my New Year resolution for 2014) to stop sharing jokes and contribute more meaningful and insightful content. Content like this answer by Oliver Emberton is what invokes a feeling of deep respect and admiration for the answerer as well as the community as a whole. For the record, this held the honour of being the most up-voted answer on Quora for a long time before being overtaken by some other answer (whose link I’m unable to locate now)!

Thinking about all this also had me reminiscing about the time I joined Quora (a couple of years back) and how I have evolved over this period in terms of (a) the quality of my answers, (b) the breadth and depth of my writing and (c) the spectrum of topics that I write on. My first contribution to Quora was interestingly, not an answer, but a post.  Dated 26th July, 2012, it was a post on the (now, pretty well-known) board Death By Puns. I remember reading answers and posts for days, being awed by the amount of experience and knowledge users brought to the platform and never really having the courage to push some content from my side! It was probably a week after I first logged-in that I could muster enough courage to put up that one-liner!

Being a data geek, I couldn’t let go without some real statistics. Quora Stats to the rescue!

My_Quora_Stats

With a total of 14k up-votes spread across 76 answers and 38 posts (let’s leave the anonymous ones out of this!), it averages out to be roughly 123 up-votes per submission. Not bad at all! Although I am not really sure about the feasibility of such a metric because the distribution of up-votes over answers is terribly skewed. But, I have seen Quorans compare using this. Another point that I observed was that out of the 76 answers, there were 7 answers in total (that makes it roughly 9% of my answers) with no up-votes at all. I did a quick temporal analysis and came to the conclusion that the most of such answers (4 out of 7) came during the phase when I had just started contributing.

*<shameless plug-in>

  1. Which is the best joke about engineers that very few people have heard?
  2. What are some good math jokes?
  3. What’s the best life lesson you’ve ever learned from a fictional character?
  4. What is the funniest translation you have ever heard or read? (Just a few more to go 😉 )

</shameless plug-in>

Many of my friends have come up to me with different versions of the same question – “What keeps me motivated to continue contributing?” A lot of possible answers pop up in my mind – answering questions, helping people, love of writing, and a chance to interact with an awesome intellectual community. But, over time I come to realize that nothing can beat this –

sanjay_sabnani

The inexplicable fist pumping joy you experience when someone whom you idealize follows you back! This is what has always motivated me and this is what will keep me going!

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Recur-ception

I had this nagging doubt in my mind for quite some time now. My thoughts took concrete form when I happened to stumble upon this Quora question sometimes back! The question is pretty old, in fact (latest activity : 12th December, 2012). But thanks to some recent changes, my Quora feed is infused with archaic content like this one.

This particular question discusses the reasons for the inter-changeable use of the words “Recursion” and “Inception”. This is a typical illustration of the influence of pop-culture. You don’t really need to go down to “Wrecking Ball” to notice this impact, it gets involved with every sphere of our existence in even more subtle ways!
If you ask me, the non-programmer folks might not be that well-versed with using “recursion” in their everyday speech. As a natural consequence, they tend to drift towards using “inception” to refer to anything that is remotely self-referential!

Things started to roll when the “XYZ-ception” and “We must go deeper” memes began to surface. Someone comes up to me and says “We were supposed to have an extra class today because one of regular lectures got cancelled. But, today’s (extra-) class got cancelled as well.”. Somehow, “extra-classeption” was the only witty reply that came to my mind!

I might be getting carried away (by sarcasm!), but imagine if the current trend continues. We might leave behind a generation of programmers and who actually believe that recursion and inception mean the same! We might hear high-school kids say things like “Dude look at this code, a function within a function, that’s function-ception!” Umm, no sir! There’s a separate term for it!

Here We Go!

To be honest, I was in a dilemma. One part of me wanted to dive right in and start blogging straight away whereas the other part (the caffeine-fueled, keyboard punching programmer) was nagging me to go for a customary “Hello World” post! So, here I am trying to strike a balance – scripting a “Hello World” post which is also informative (or is it an informative post which is kind-of “Hello World”?).

So why start a blog, all of a sudden? For the sole reason that I love writing and I wasn’t doing it enough! The inception of this blog has been carried out with the aim of motivating me to get better at writing stuff, explaining concepts and exploring the unknown day-by-day. Innovation in any creative pursuit requires you to understand the tastes of the establishment. Only then can you administer your own panache. A beautiful quote by Ira Glass on storytelling resonates with this idea and is remarkably apt for my situation.

What nobody tells people who are beginners – and I really wish someone had told this to me … is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good.It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

And since I’m a novice when it comes to blogging, my readers can expect mistakes, inconsistencies and often re-statement of the obvious. But, I assure you of my unceasing efforts to become a better content generator.

Let the blogging commence!