Quora Caters to a New User: Doctors and Lawyers

What area of expertise do we target next? This is the question Quora is asking as it strives to grow beyond its status as Silicon Valley darling.  The answer appears to be doctors and lawyers, as the site has put several changes in place to attract users from these professions and generate more content and conversation in Health and Law.

Quora, the question and answer site launched in June 2010 which has grown exponentially in the last nine months; it immediately attracted social media gurus, entrepreneurs, and engineers. If people want social media insider information, from the likes of Facebook Engineer Andrew “Boz” Bosworth or to ask creators of Foursquare a question, Quora is the place to go. However, in parallel with its goal to become a ‘knowledge base’, Quora is looking to not only attract more users from diverse fields, but also to make it easier (and legally safer) for health and law professionals to participate on Quora.

In a post to users on Monday April 4th, 2011 Quora states, “Attorneys and doctors have accumulated significant knowledge that is useful and fascinating. We want these professionals to feel comfortable sharing some of that knowledge in response to general questions about law and medicine.” As such, the site has added several features which encourage advice from law and health professionals. These features include:  new disclaimers, a new section in Terms of Services, and new policies.

The new policies are particular interesting as they place restrictions and guidelines around what kind of questions can be asked. For example, users are not allowed to ask questions which involve specifics in the law section; similarly, users may ask generic health related questions, but cannot ask questions pertaining to any individual or any particular case. There are also guidelines for answers, using disclaimers, and private messaging in both sections, all of which stress the importance client-professional privilege.

Won’t there be user uproar that some professions are getting special policy and guidelines privileges? Probably not. Quora explains that these two particular professions have been given these new guidelines and policies, not because doctors and lawyers are better than the rest of Quora’s users, but because they have “license-related constraints on their online behavior, including: (1) duties of confidentiality to clients & patients and (2) the obligation not to inadvertently create a client or patient relationship through contact on the Web.” In short, Quora is hoping to provide doctors and lawyers with a sense of legal safety to encourage them to answer questions.

There are two intriguing aspects to these new guidelines. The first is that by adding new policy in sections outside of technology and social media, Quora is holding true to its word; this proves that Quora seeks to grow beyond being a networking site for the social media elite to include an expansive knowledge base with high profile users across several different areas.

However, by adding disclaimers and policies in two sections, has Quora inadvertently opened up a Pandora’s Box? There are lots of “licensed professions”, and while doctors and lawyers may be the most obviously in need of “protection”, they certainly aren’t the only experts with codes of conduct that require adhering to. Will users in other sections begin demanding similar “official” protections from the site? Are these disclaimers the first of a slippery slope towards site-wide legal jumble attached to every answer?

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