Last March, an anonymous user of Quora, a website that lets its members ask and answer queries on any topic they wish, posted a question: “How do I customize Quora to exclude all Indian content, and Indian authors?” By this September, the post, and its thread of answers, had been viewed over 215,000 times. Many users denounced the question as racist; others agreed that the website had an “Indian problem.” One user with an Indian name described his attempts to filter out most content by Indians, even as a non-Indian user denounced the idea.
Intense debate is standard on Quora. The company was founded, in 2009, by two Silicon Valley veterans aiming to provide the world with “the best answer to every question.” The website quickly attracted a dedicated core of users sharing insightful answers on everything from black holes to working under Steve Jobs, the former Apple CEO. Readers vote in favour of content they find valuable, and the website ranks answers accordingly. Quora started as a private community, and its userbase remained largely centred on Silicon Valley even after it opened up to the public, in mid 2010. Press reports often described it as being overly preoccupied with start-ups and San Francisco.
That critique no longer holds. Quora today is a juggernaut, with millions of users, an expansive range of topics, and over $140 million in venture capital funding. Marc Bodnick, Quora’s head of business and community, told me in August that the website saw “particularly strong growth in India” after it introduced an Android application in late 2012, due in part to the popularity of Android-powered smartphones in the country (and perhaps also because a large number of Indians are fluent in English—currently Quora’s only language). Lengthy discussions on Bollywood actors, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Indian Institutes of Technology flooded the website. According to the traffic-measurement tool Alexa, 40 percent of Quora’s current visitors access the website from India—although Bodnick told me the figure stands at about 15 percent. Many Quora users now complain that this influx has degraded the quality of the website’s content and community.