Writing on the web has gone from “listen to me” to “ask me anything”

Writing on the web has taken many forms over the years. The earliest being geocities homepages, but first materialized as a format with blogging. Since then, blogging has spawned a lot of different forms, but adjusting its different properties. Limit the size of the message and make following easy, and you get Twitter. Make posting multimedia and reposting it easy, and you get Tumblr. Make it only about posting pictures on the go with filters with easy sharing on Twitter and Facebook, and you get Instagram.[1]

The other way to approach the problem of getting people to write on the web is a question and answers site. Before Quora, I honestly never gave much thought to Q&A sites, since all the ones I saw were pretty terrible, like Yahoo Answers. But when Quora came out a little over a year ago, I found it fun to read, since the answers tended to be thoughtful. Since then, Q&A has taken many forms, from AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit to Formspring. [2]

I’ve not been posting here as much in the past week partially because I’ve been writing on a site called Askolo [3], which is another take on Q&A sites. Askolo is like formspring, where you can answer questions people ask you, but the questions and answers are more thoughtful. I’ve found both writing and reading on Askolo to be addicting to the point I needed to block the site when I’m trying to get work done.

Of course, your mileage may vary, but I found it attractive as a reader because I knew the other users on Askolo, but often times, I discovered things about them that didn’t know and wouldn’t have thought to ask. In addition, I can ask a question, and with enough votes of curiosity from other Askolians, they feel compelled to answer. A lot of the time, if someone was an expert or knew quite a bit about a particular area or field, I could ask them about it as well.

On the other side of the equation, I write on Askolo, because they’re what other people are interested in knowing about me or something I can answer. Curiously, I remembered something that Robert Scoble posted at about how he was wrong about Quora as a blogging service. Because Askolo is directed at specific people, I thought it was a good platform for doing lead gen on what blog posts to write. 

One of the unsaid things about blogging is that it’s a bit of work to write. And you have to do it for a long time in order to see conversations and social returns. In addition, you often don’t know what what topics to write about to generate readership. So the only recourse is to write a lot, about a variety of topics, keep track of what’s trending and write about that. With Askolo, people can vote on questions they’re curious about, so it acts as lead gen for blog post topics people would be interested in. 

As we got better at figuring out what the web was good for, we realized the web is really good at keeping us social with each other, despite naysayers in the 90’s. And as a consequence, it’s not total unique visitors that were important, but it was engagement that was quite important in keeping users around (which is why websites are getting more and more addicting).

That engagement happens when we can interact with others in a meaningful way around some type of digital artifact, whether it’s photos, tweet, blog post, or questions. And with blogs, the longstanding method of interaction was really just comments or writing your own blog post as a reply. So when you can ask someone questions on a blog-like platform, it opens up a new channel of meaningful interaction to drive engagement, and everyone gets more fun out of it.

So I think they’re on to something, but I’m not exactly sure where it’ll go. I think there’s a couple of different potential ways to go from lead gen for blogging to a dating site. As writing on the web has evolved from Blogger, to Twitter, to Quora, Askolo is an evolution in ways to write on the web, and it’ll be interesting to see where the space goes.

In the mean time, feel free to ask me questions on Askolo, or vote on questions you’d like to see answered, and I’ll do my best to answer them. Better answers will make it to this blog as a post. Happy asking!

[1] Of course, I’m over-simplifying. These aren’t the only reasons why those sites are successful.

[2] Quora’s not the first, but I’m too lazy to figure out which out of the three were the first. My point is that they’re all in the same category at around the same time.

[3] In full disclosure, I know the founders, I helped them beta test the site.