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First Click: Quora is still the weirdest thing in my inbox

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December 15th, 2016

first click quora

There’s a lot of crap in my inbox. Not necessarily junk mail or spam, just things I have zero interest in ever opening — college alumni drives, flight deals, promotions from a swanky London gym I once feigned interest in for the sake of a free trial. Every few weeks I’ll go through my Gmail and mindlessly clear them out, but there’s always one email that catches my eye.

I don’t remember ever joining Quora, or even why I did it. When it launched to the public in 2010, the site billed itself as a high-quality question-and-answer forum, like Yahoo Answers with actual answers. Maybe I had questions, maybe I was looking for answers. All I know for sure is that I never used it, though it still occupies space in my brain thanks to its persistent “Quora Digest” emails and their inane subject lines. The subjects are drawn, purportedly, from real questions asked by real people in my real(?) network, and they are often very bizarre. Here are some recent examples:

  • “What are the key factors in pistol duels?”
  • “Why do toilets in China smell so bad?”
  • “Am I a bad father for not realizing my 12-year-old daughter was freezing at a family function?”
  • “Why should I believe what my daughter says?”
  • “What happens when nobody picks up a pizza?”
  • “Cigarettes: What does smoking feel like, and should I try it?”

Aviation seems to be popular topics among my Quora network (“Who pays full price to fly in first class?”), as does college admissions (“Am I likely to be accepted into Princeton?”). I care very little about either of these subjects, though others strike closer to home. “What is the saddest thing about you?” “I am 35 and I have not achieved much in life. Is it too late?”

What’s perhaps most impressive about this strategy is its dogged persistence. The site has a LinkedIn-like thirst for my attention, and its “throw-strange-shit-against-the-wall” approach has earned at least a few seconds of it every day. It hasn’t been enough to send me down the wormhole or actually click on any of the links, but it’s sort of refreshing to know that people are still using the internet to ask each other weird questions. And that, at least, is enough to keep Quora out of my trash can.