Quora Pivot$

I'm not sure they realize it yet, but the folks at Quora - perhaps intending only to solve a problem with shoddy and superfluous answers - have come up with a system that may herald a new kind of money.

Screen shot 2011-09-06 at 10.41.01 PMQuora is beta testing a new system that (I think) it hopes will improve the quality of answers on the site, and thus legitimize Quora as a repository and manufactory of authoritative opinion (a kind of real time, place your bet, backed-by-authorial-reputation Wikipedia).

The basic idea is to pay experts to write answers.

The units of payment, which Quora terms "credits" (Techcrunch came up with a far better name that Quora should use: "Quoins"), don't appear to be useful to the recipient for anything other than commissioning answers from other experts. But put that reservation aside for a minute as a temporary shortcoming. Quora's credits are a currency, a way of quantifying the exchange of one person's time and attention for another's.

Writing in Technology Review last month, James Surowiecki critiqued Bitcoin for its artificially self-imposed scarcity, a structural defect dooming the virtual currency to be hoarded by speculators. "Successful currencies are used to transact day-to-day business and lubricate commerce," he wrote. Riffing on Surowiecki's article, Paul Krugman wrote yesterday that "What we want from a monetary system isn’t to make people holding money rich; we want it to facilitate transactions and make the economy as a whole rich." Bitcoin, he concluded, lays a path to deflation and depression.

But that's not Quora's currency, not as I understand it. The "money supply" expands in correlation to the time people devote to getting and spending the credits. 

Central banks aren't shuddering yet, but there's something to what Quora is doing that is beyond mere gamification to make the site stickier. Someday we may not even remember Quora's genesis as a question and answer site, and understand it instead as the lubricant of a barter economy that repels government taxation and corporate brand marketing alike.


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