Scott Hanselman

I'd like to use the web my way, thank you very much Quora.

February 14, '13 Comments [68] Posted in Musings
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I was browsing the web today, as I often do, with my iPhone on the can. (Yeah, you do it too, don't front.)

A link to an interesting Q&A on Quora came along, so I clicked.

And got this.

No I don't want your app, Quora

Wow. This is bold, even for Quora.

I can peek at one answer, then presumably I'll be so enamored with Quora's walled garden that I'll rush to download their app.

The introduction of iOS 6 also introduced "smart app banners" as a way to let users know that your site has an associated app. The site author just adds a META tag and mobile safari handles the rest.

<meta name="apple-itunes-app" content="app-id=999">

Note that the giant DOWNLOAD THIS APP PLEASE arrow is all Quora and is not part of the iOS 6 Smart App Banner feature. This is equivalent to a YouTube video embedding a "please subscribe video" or a reporter pointing at an unseen 1-800 number added later in post production.

This implementation goes against everything on the web. You're not just actively preventing me from visiting your site by forcing me to log in, but you're also actively forcing me to download your app to access your server.

I don't want your app. Apps are too much like 1990's CD-ROMs and not enough like the Web.

The Web Rejects Hacks

There's a pay wall over at the New York Times, in case you hadn't heard. When you hit the Times enough times or in different ways you'll be prompted to buy a subscription, and it's apparently working pretty well. At least, better than you'd expect.

But the Times uses a number of techniques strike a balance between "open looking" and "totally not open." If you hit a Times link from Google or Twitter, it works. If you hit the times from an email, you get a pay wall. If you read the Times a lot, you get a pay wall. These techniques are wide and varied. They appear to look at your IP, use cookies, use HTTP_Referer, use URL querystrings.

However, the New York Times and other web properties are attempting to use the web in a way that the web doesn't like.  In fact, the NYTimes is actively playing Web Whack a Mole with those that would reject their pay wall.

The web itself actively doesn't like these hacks. It's not just that the people of the web don't like it, that's a social issue. It's that the technology underlayment doesn't like it.

Sites like this want to have their cake and eat it too. They want Google to freely index their content for searching, but when a person tries to actually READ the site they'll pop interstitial ads, use DIVs to cover the content and actively hide it from the user.

The uncomfortable tension for a business is that the web will never see content that's not indexed (by Google, effectively), but it's not OK to serve one piece of content to the GoogleBot and another piece to the live user. So, sites play tricks and the attempt to funnel us into usage patterns that fit their models and their perceptions. They HAVE to serve the whole page to all comers - ah, but do they have to actually let you SEE it?

What's Underneath?

Check out any Quora answer while on a mobile device not logged in. See that scroll bar there? The entire page actually loaded. I can scroll around! The white area is on top, blocking the content.

The scrollbar gives it away

Don't believe me? Gobsmacked? Here's a screenshot of a View Source from my iPhone of this page. Sure the markup is really awful, but squint and you can see the content is there. All of it.

View Source on Quora

I love that my mobile data plan was used to download the full contents of a page that I'm not able to see.

No, I don't want your app. I want to use the web my way. You're not doing it right, therefore I reject you. You need to change your ways.

Yes, it's your prerogative on how you want to run your website, but I propose that just like ExpertsExchange and others before you, the open web will reject your chicanery.

I said Good Day Sir!

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013 1:42:58 AM UTC
Quora seem hell-bent on emulating Experts Exchange. We all know what happened to them when StackOverflow came along.
Thursday, February 14, 2013 1:46:44 AM UTC
Will they? Will they *REALLY*?

ExpertSexChange is still going strong.

Quora is piled high with people asking stupid questions and giving meticulously sourced incorrect answers to all manner of tech inquiries.

Facebook is about as closed as you can get for a social networking site, and people don't seem to be leaving it in droves. Though they swear they will next week.

Google isn't even particularly open, though they're just open enough that they can pretend they are.
K
Thursday, February 14, 2013 2:04:50 AM UTC
*love* the Willy Wonka reference at the end. Yeah, having to download the entire page (while paying for that content on your phone) and not being able to see it is the most doucheyest (if that's a word).
Thursday, February 14, 2013 2:07:09 AM UTC
I am not philosophically against paywall (or even serving different content to mobile users/ users from traffic source x). However the above example you outlined is a terrible implementation of it. Seriously, loading the whole webpage and adding a simple javascript cosmetic to keep users away from content.

There are so many different ways to implement this better: having the linking URL act as a resolver to direct the user to the appropriate page to encourage app usage for mobile devices.

Besides, I don't even know the Business Case advantages of having an app over a good mobile site if the Use Case scenario is for the consumer to read only. If you wanted to contribute to the question, perhaps *then* prompt an app download. That would ensure higher app reusage if the primary target market for the app is people who actively engage in Quora vs forcing one-and-done downloads of people who are passive users.

Anyway, I think the Quora people should rethink this particular strategy, perhaps do some A/B testing so that a % of users hit the content wall and see if the percentage of pageviews/app downloads is a worthwhile business decision.

Thursday, February 14, 2013 2:32:33 AM UTC
I agree with your post and think this is a bad move on Quora's part. However, for a site like theirs, what would you suggest they do instead? not paywalls at all? not forcing the user to download apps, not having to login? I am curious, what would you do with a site like this?
Thursday, February 14, 2013 2:48:05 AM UTC
Amen - great write-up. So much of the browsing public simply isn't aware and just puts up with it. Hopefully sites that are clear and open (or clear and closed) will eventually be rewarded.
Thursday, February 14, 2013 2:49:18 AM UTC
ExpertSEXchange :) What else do you expect?
Thursday, February 14, 2013 3:14:14 AM UTC
Wow! You use Quora? Kinky!!!
Doug
Thursday, February 14, 2013 3:18:07 AM UTC
+1 on the expertsexchange reference. I swear I was the only one I knew of who suffered that loss.
brian
Thursday, February 14, 2013 3:25:51 AM UTC
Hehe, you said "don't front"... awesome :-)
Thursday, February 14, 2013 3:32:18 AM UTC
I think there is a place for a subscription/pay wall model when it comes to real news outlets such as the NY Times. As the print news industry withers, it is important that real news, researched and reported by real journalists, find its way into the main stream, and all of that costs money.

Is the NYT paywall the best approach? Probably not. It feels a little conniving. But has anyone found a better way? It seems to be working for them, and at least they are trying.

Quora's new approach is something else. Don't think they will succeed well here, and their approach just seems shady.

The modern web seems to be a place which everyone wants to monetize as a producer, yet everyone wants to consume for free. In fact often, the same people who want people to pay for their app/service/subscription etc. staunchly refuse to drop $0.99 on an app. Or complain about the presence of ads in their free game. If Print media, recorded music, and movie houses are to go the way of the dinosaur, we the people either need to accept that internet content is not going to remain free-of-cost-and-free-of-those-damn-ads, or accept the inevitable decline in the quality of such content.

Of course, providers need to stop trying to push antiquated business models into the connected, live, 24 - 7 digital realm. They need to adapt and experiment. Maybe that's what this is all about . . .
Thursday, February 14, 2013 3:43:22 AM UTC
Quora sucks because it raised $61MM of investor money on the promise that it could become a monetized Wikipedia.

Those investors want a return, so it can't just be a nice, useful, $50MM valuation website. It needs to make a ton of money.

I predict that it will get worse and worse until it finally runs out of money. But with $61MM in the bank and a small staff, they'll keep annoying the world for a long time.
KW
Thursday, February 14, 2013 3:56:00 AM UTC
Scott, try visiting the site on a desktop browser without logging in. They serve the full content, but *blur* all but the first answer:
http://imgur.com/EWa0W9E
Jay Hanlon
Thursday, February 14, 2013 4:32:26 AM UTC
This is so infuriating... I'm red hot right now... about to explode from frustration and anger... I can't believe it's come to this... how could you... do... that... on the can?!!
Elvis
Thursday, February 14, 2013 5:16:07 AM UTC
Bravo.

That is all.

Matt
Matthew Schragal
Thursday, February 14, 2013 5:17:58 AM UTC
Don't pretend you haven't heard of the "Mobile first, mobile only" strategy. Quora is just following the trend.
Sergey
Thursday, February 14, 2013 5:29:15 AM UTC
I think the Google Panda update will take care of sites like this.
Anton
Thursday, February 14, 2013 5:48:23 AM UTC
Thats bad. Giving an option rather than forcing would be a good act. Lucky for me I use Chrome which helps me bypass these stuff.
Mohib Sheth
Thursday, February 14, 2013 6:20:30 AM UTC
I've had a similar frustration with Quora recently and decided not to visit any links on it again. My experience, however, is from the desktop side. Quora wants everybody to login to the site to view anything beyond the first answer. I'm really loathe to login to some random site that I know I won't visit often, and I'm not interested in spreading my Facebook or Google or other logins around the web either.

It looks like their content is not growing whereas hits are (maybe with AdBlock Plus and such), and someone there thought these kind of hacks would be brilliant ideas to force people to do things that they don't want to do.
Same Here
Thursday, February 14, 2013 6:36:45 AM UTC
The following can be used as a bookmarklet to fix that page on iOS and show the content:
javascript:(function($) {
$(".app_promo, .app_install_dialog").hide();
$(".answer_text").css({'margin-left': '110px', 'width': '88%'});
}(jQuery));
Sam V
Thursday, February 14, 2013 7:19:01 AM UTC
big shock. everything associated with facebook (path, instagram, zynga, Quora, fb itself) is shady.
Tim Peterson
Thursday, February 14, 2013 7:31:23 AM UTC
I actually reported this to Google a month or so ago. They do this even on desktop. Its searchable, but they blur it out. Its a scam. If enough people report it to google maybe they'll blacklist them.
Thursday, February 14, 2013 7:46:04 AM UTC
That they did this to you while you were *pooping* is what's really unforgivable.
Thursday, February 14, 2013 8:29:06 AM UTC
Saw your tweet last night and got enraged. How stupid. I'd use that js snippet above to bypass it just out of spite. The same way I used googles cached pages to bypass expertsexchange answers for years.

HAHA, the hack still works even on their new site. Just google any question, if you see it on ExpertsExchange then just view the cached version of the page and scroll to the bottom. The answers are always there, even though I've repeatedly emailed them telling them about this bug.

Thursday, February 14, 2013 9:52:17 AM UTC
Quora does the same thing on Android phones when not logged in to their mobile website. You can see the first answer, but then must download the app to see the rest. If you are logged in on the site you are able to see all of the answers. Of course, to use the app you need to login!

Essentially they have created a walled garden. There is no monetary cost for access, but I am sure they will profit from your information/usage. Of course they are free to run the business the way the like; I just don't like it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013 10:31:28 AM UTC
"You're not doing it right, therefore I reject you. You need to change your ways."

I say this all the time! Bad customer service at a store, poor experience using an app or website.
Mark Robinson
Thursday, February 14, 2013 10:55:50 AM UTC
Here in Brazil all major news companies are doing the same with their websites. Limited views per week/month then a div asking for subscription.
Eduardo
Thursday, February 14, 2013 11:38:10 AM UTC
I can't agree more. If content isn't freely available it shouldn't be freely indexable either. I've long since despised the trickery we see on the web these days. I can live with advertisement banners if I have to, but this kind of trickery is unacceptable.


Corne
Thursday, February 14, 2013 12:06:48 PM UTC
I don't understand why anybody would ever use Quora. It's basically a vastly inferior StackExchange that wants you to login using Facebook (or some stupid app) to view answers.
Tridus
Thursday, February 14, 2013 1:01:04 PM UTC
It's certainly an interesting crossroads between companies trying to make money, and the Internet, which most everyone has come to expect to be free.
Bob
Thursday, February 14, 2013 1:39:52 PM UTC
Good call on experts exchange, now a dead ground thanks to other better q & a sites :)
krystan honour
Thursday, February 14, 2013 1:43:05 PM UTC
As someone stated, it is the exact same experience on Android. Point being: exact. The styling of the banner ad is very iOS-y and on Android makes you feel like the app is iOS only (it isn't). In fact the banner is identical except "App Store" is replaced with "Google Play"

Point: They went through the effort of sniffing for what OS the user is using and delivered different banners based on that. They just didn't go through the effort to make Android user's experience feel like it's aimed at them.
Thursday, February 14, 2013 2:19:14 PM UTC
I never used Quora. In fact, I've never even heard of them until I read this article. Went to quora.com and the front page tells me absolutely nothing about what it is or what it does. But they do want my facebook, google, or twitter account to sign on. Quora is failing at the internet hard.
Thursday, February 14, 2013 2:39:59 PM UTC
I'll pay a site if the information it provides is unique and useful. Confession: I used and paid experstsexchange for a while. Then I started getting lousy answers to MY questions and stale answers on research. Cancelled.

Frankly I am overwhelmed with general information at this point. I can't stand the NYT but I'm a Midwesterner, so maybe I just don't get it. So much "news" isn't really news and so much of the rest of it is simply poorly written editorials. Not unique - not useful.

I'd pay for this site, actually. Unique *and* useful. Couldn't figure out how, so I bought your lost phone app.

But you're right, Scott. If you tried to deny me with some tomfoolery, a loud, awful game show buzzer would go off in my head and I'd be gone.

Actually, I hear that sound a lot these days.
bill
Thursday, February 14, 2013 3:13:34 PM UTC
Ever since Quora started heavy-handed moderation of question and answer content (and sometimes even by person) it became of as little informative value as Yahoo Questions. I dropped out of the conversation some time ago. No looking back.
fjpoblam
Thursday, February 14, 2013 3:52:14 PM UTC

Well explanied. Mr CEO.
nathan Andoh
Thursday, February 14, 2013 3:52:17 PM UTC
I'm a heavy Quora user who signed up before they started doing this. I think Quora's content is great, but I think their whole walled garden approach is a giant mistake. As you explain so clearly, it turns off a lot of people. Thanks for taking the time to document your experience.
William Pietri
Thursday, February 14, 2013 4:16:28 PM UTC
Well written. I have to agree with you that any website funneling me into their application gets an automatic back button or page close. Open web! If you want me to enjoy your amazingly awesome content and share it, make it responsive and mobile friendly! I don't need a Quora app or many others that I wouldn't find use for on a daily basis.

Good DAY Sir!
Thursday, February 14, 2013 5:13:15 PM UTC
I hadn't really messed with it before, but it looks like the common way to view source on an iPhone is to use a bookmarklet and that there are several options to choose from. The first hit via a Google search for me was Snoopy followed by one linked from OsXDaily.

I'm curious which one you're using and if you'd checked out more than one?
Thursday, February 14, 2013 6:03:55 PM UTC
Strange.

The words actually do say, "You need the app to read all the answers".

Yet every time I see it I read, "You need to press your back button and find a more usable web site".
Thursday, February 14, 2013 6:08:00 PM UTC
You sure have a point. Then again one may have even higher expectations. For example expecting to use the service under better Terms. Or even to have access to the Quora source code and create their own instances before accepting to use the service. The limit is subjective. Many users (probably the vast majority) will simply accept to use their app.
Thursday, February 14, 2013 6:18:47 PM UTC
Timely post Scott. Our local newspaper just went to a paywall. You are allowed to read five articles online before being blocked. The choices there are subscribe to the print version and get online access included or subscribe to a digital only plan. What sillyness.
Brian K
Friday, February 15, 2013 5:56:13 AM UTC
Apropo, fresh off the presses:

http://xkcd.com/1174/

Coincidence?
Friday, February 15, 2013 7:08:22 AM UTC
The sea of apps is also creating something of a "Tragedy of the Commons". When apps were rarer, being asked to install one wasn't so much of an annoyance. But now that the bandwagon is moving along it's "the thing to do". Well, many of us smartphone users are ditching the apps due to pestering updates, etc. Why deliver something through an app that already has an app for that purpose, i.e., the web browser?

Apps that deliver web content cannot last if everyone is doing it. And it's unnecessary anyways.
Friday, February 15, 2013 9:33:05 AM UTC
I've just been reading this one http://gizmodo.com/5984480/no-i-dont-want-to-download-the-terrible-app-version-of-your-website

What does google has to say about this kind of behavior in websites? I remember reading that these fall under foul play as per Google SEO policies.
Friday, February 15, 2013 9:41:49 AM UTC
I love the fact that the open web just got turned against those trying to close part of it.
Friday, February 15, 2013 9:46:11 AM UTC
You undermine your argument when you contradict yourself.
If you hit a Times link from Google or Twitter, it works.
...
They want Google to freely index their content for searching, but when a person tries to actually READ the site they'll pop interstitial ads, use DIVs to cover the content and actively hide it from the user.
They want Google to index everything, *and* they allow you to read anything that you find that way. That's a good thing. If you see something else interesting, they let you read that, too, up to ten times. That's also a good thing. But they don't want you to read unlimited amounts of their "value-add" for free. I would argue that that is *also* a good thing, as it allows them to continue to pay for the creation of their content.

I have the NY Times app, which allows free access to the top news stories, and depending on the day's events, I read it between a few times a week or several times a day. I don't subscribe, which means I can't use it to read columnists, etc, but I'm OK with that. I understand what they're trying to do, and I agree with it so I live with it.
samwyse
Friday, February 15, 2013 11:32:09 AM UTC
What I don't understand is the people who write, "They asked me to signup, so I am NEVER coming back!" I assume these are all people who have 9-to-5s outside of the sales world and don't realize that someone, somewhere in their company is relying on either businesses or individuals paying that company for its production in order for them to still have their jobs and not be in the unemployment line.

Most casual users of the Internet seem to have a belief that the millions of people creating content and platforms fulltime on the Internet are doing it purely out of charity and the goodness of their hearts, and have no interest in or need for being compensated in any way for their work aside from a few "thanks" here and there. If the rest of the world were run this way, we'd be back to throwing spears at antelopes and growing all of our own food on plots of land not far from our homes within a year.

I agree that the Quora implementation is very poorly done. I'm not a frequent user, but when I hit the site recently I get the whole "You need an account to view this page" thing and immediately leave. However, I'm not Quora's target demographic; I don't spend much time on the site, and don't answer questions. So, if I were to join the crowds here and say, "I am NEVER coming back!" I suspect Quora's answer to me would be, "So?"

Point being, while their implementation is ugly, I suspect the loudest voices here are from people who don't pay to use Quora, would never pay to use Quora, don't spend much time evangelizing the brand to friends and others around the web, and don't spend much time clicking on ads, either. In other words, people who use up bandwidth and little else. My guess is, Quora will be happy to see those people go... just like how the company you work for wouldn't be too distressed if non-customers stopping by the office to snag free pencils and pens off of employees' desks found themselves locked out and angrily swore never to return. Oh well...
Brian
Friday, February 15, 2013 1:58:59 PM UTC
This seems really appropriate.
Dilip
Friday, February 15, 2013 3:16:17 PM UTC
Dilip:

I had the same thought. Great minds think alike.
Mike
Friday, February 15, 2013 3:42:10 PM UTC
Remind me to not borrow your cell phone.

Ewww. :/
Gareth
Friday, February 15, 2013 4:01:33 PM UTC
"Don't front"? Did your wife teach you that? hahaha

It's a good touch. :)

Some yuppy
Saturday, February 16, 2013 1:44:42 AM UTC
Last time I looked a Quora in a desktop browser I had Fiddler open. That's why it was the LAST time. Try it, see what I mean. Scott, I think they're tracking your bowel movements.
Saturday, February 16, 2013 3:42:28 PM UTC
So I found a way around the NYT paywall... it used to be that you could just delete everything after the ? in the url, hit enter and it would load, but not anymore (it loads, but an instant later reloads the original url and puts the junk over the bottom of the page).

So go sign up for a free Instapaper.com account, then delete the part of the NYT url after the ? and copy everything else and "add" it to instapaper. *boom* instant free NYT (and you have a saved history of your articles).

And I'm with you on the hating the stupid big obnoxious pop-overs for "DOWNLAD ARE APP IT SO COOOOOL" or "CLICK HER EFOR MOBIL SITE!@" that obscures content I have otherwise already downloaded and *could* read if not for the obnoxious banner blanking out the site. This happened to me on the MIT technology review site the other day, so I had to download the article twice in order to be able to read it.

I have an amazing mobile browser with a large screen and have zero problems reading normal websites on it. Just fucking let me!!!
Saturday, February 16, 2013 5:01:19 PM UTC
xkcd cartoon that sums up this annoyance perfectly...

http://xkcd.com/1174/
Josh Schlesinger
Sunday, February 17, 2013 12:46:23 AM UTC
Check out this post by Tom Morris:
http://tommorris.org/posts/8070

Quite similar..
Andrew
Sunday, February 17, 2013 4:33:33 AM UTC
I can't agree with you more. Love XXX
JoaquinAR
Sunday, February 17, 2013 7:54:33 AM UTC
But at least I can find answers there. Try to find something in the other "Q&A" spammers sites...
rose
Monday, February 18, 2013 10:20:59 AM UTC
Topically, how about this: http://xkcd.com/1174/
Andrew
Monday, February 18, 2013 12:14:13 PM UTC
I'd never heard of Quora. So I went to the site. No real indication of what it is, but it really wanted me to log in. No thanks.
elmo
Tuesday, February 19, 2013 6:09:11 PM UTC
Hey that first screenshot does not look like Mobile Safari. As Safari does not have a "widget/gear" icon in its tool, its bookmark is a open book not a bookmark, and its share is in the middle not on the left.

The second one looks like mobile Safari but how did you get it to do view source.

So where you using another browser app that used the UIWebView under the covers and provided its own toolbar? Or is this a "Developer Mode" you have to enable via Xcode or the Mac Safari's Developer mode, or something else?

Just curious :)
Rodney
Tuesday, February 19, 2013 7:34:04 PM UTC
Rodney - It's just mobile safari (UIWebView) inside TweetLogix.
Thursday, February 28, 2013 8:21:00 PM UTC
Quora, like Big Resource, has been filtered from my search results in the manage blocked sites section.
Rob Allen
Thursday, February 28, 2013 11:26:04 PM UTC
I just added a question on Quora.
http://www.quora.com/Quora-product/What-do-you-think-of-Scott-Hanselmans-critique-of-Quora (added this link)
And as I am new to the place I promoted it thinking it may help to reach more users..
I am ignorant rgds internet and all, just a common user.
1 hour has passed, my question was viewed by 100 ppl. Only 3 following it (including me!).... but the only answer was deleted.
Hmm.
Friday, April 05, 2013 4:02:18 PM UTC
Spot on. Found this article on a Google search for "quora sucks". I'm so disheartened in what they turned LinkedIn Answers (a massively useful service) into. Sadly, this article makes me realize that no longer getting questions answered is just the tip of the iceberg. As far as I'm concerned, LinkedIn Answers was the best thing on the site, and it's telling to see them cannibalize it for what should have been seen as an obviously failing model - prognosis looks bad for their future.

A Q&A website is not particularly sophisticated/hard to build, or particularly costly for an existing social network to implement. This Quora debacle just opens up market share for a more long-game, brand-oriented company, like Google, to step in and take the reins. Unfortunately, the inherent quality of the answers from such an established professional community will be hard to replicate, but if LinkedIn is out of the game maybe Google+ Business pages (or maybe Meetup?) could facilitate a proper rebirth. Maybe a "business only" section of Yahoo? The great thing about Answers was that by answering a question you could help someone and advertise your skills (a link to your CV was always attached); having a skin in the game (I believe) was the key catalyst for better quality - this will be a necessary component for future iterations.
Sunday, May 26, 2013 9:16:23 PM UTC
Looks like its finally changing its name. http://www.scribd.com/doc/143804856/Press-Release-May-Quora-announces-name-change-after-four-years-of-FAIL
Sunday, August 04, 2013 12:44:23 PM UTC
When I originally left a comment I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on each
time a comment is added I recieve 4 emails
with the exact same comment. Is there a means you are able to remove
me from that service? Appreciate it!
Friday, November 08, 2013 10:02:04 PM UTC
At this time it appears like BlogEngine is the best
blogging platform available right now. (from what I've read) Is that what you are
using on your blog?
Comments are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.