One sign of a good education is the recognition that questions are often more interesting than answers. A website called Quora increasingly illustrates this principle. It was launched in 2010 by a couple of twentysomething Facebook executives, with an initial valuation of $86m (£51m) — and now a figure in the billions. Stephen Fry and the actor Ashton Kutcher were early fans, but the initial response from many British users was rather muted.
This seems to have changed in recent months. Quora has ripened into one of the most consistently engaging and enlightening spaces on the internet. Its premise is simple. Using their real names, people post questions for others to answer. You vote an answer up or down according to whether or not you like it; the most popular rise to the top.
Some questions, such as “What are some of the most epic photographs ever taken?”, offer nothing more than standard and enjoyable internet procrastination. Others, such as “What’s it like to be a geek in prison?” or “How does Apple keep secrets so well?”, allow people with specialist knowledge of a subject to explain. One of the most-viewed questions is “What’s it like to be a drug dealer?”. The “best” answer is a fascinating 3,000-word account from a self-professed “mid-level trafficker” who sold more than $1m-worth of marijuana and cocaine after leaving university — and got away with it.
The best questions are the ones with no right answer. In response to “What is/are the most startling discoveries made by the human race?”, users have argued for electricity, money, the wheel, antimatter, antibiotics, the heliocentric model and cooking. The current leader is mathematics.
What is the most underrated piece of art? Quora thinks it is Harry Beck’s 1931 map of the London Underground. This could be because most of Quora’s users are in America, though as many as a third are thought to live in India.