By Yonatan Gordon
Aside from the “Think Different” tagline (which we discussed in our Apple article), Quora has two of the best taglines in operation today. They use either “Quora connects you to everything you want to know about.” or simply “Know more.”
So what are we aiming at in this article? As we hope to explain, while Quora is becoming increasingly popular, there is still much left to do.
QUORA OR QUORUM
The first thought that came to mind before writing this article was the concept behind a quorum. First, let’s start with the definition,
“The minimum number of members of an assembly that must be present to make a meeting valid.” — Merriam-Webster
In Jewish tradition, the most common usage of this term relates to assembling for prayer. A quorum (minyan) of ten men over the age of Bar Mitzvah need to be present according to Orthodox Jewish Tradition. That being said, our intention for this article is to focus on another grouping of ten; something that the Kabbalists call a partzuf.
A partzuf (or personae) is a full set of intellectual and emotive powers, that includes a tenfold articulation of sub-elements called sefirot. What happens when we gather ten Jews together to form a quorum (minyan) for prayer? This assemblage also brings together different personalities or approaches to life. In Kabbalah, Abraham is termed the man of kindness, whereas Isaac served God with properly directed fear. Then there was Jacob who was a blending of these two modes of service. When ten approaches or sefirot assemble, together they make up a partzuf of Divine energy or life-force. It is by way of the sefirot that God interacts with creation. Whereas Abraham is the man of kindness, when God performs kindness, He is performing the act directly through the attribute or sefirah or chesed (loving-kindness), and so forth.
QUORUM OF CONCEPTS
Introduced by the Arizal, the concept of partzufim (pl. for partzuf), implied a radical shift of focus considering the nature of Creation. This stage of development of Kabbalistic thought is called Enclothement (Hitlabshut). As a result of this new system of partzufim, sefirot were now portrayed as complex interacting entities, cosmic “personae,” which in “familial” constellations are constantly giving and receiving life-force from one another. This overlapping places the “legs” of one partzuf within the “head” of another one.
This then provide us with the conceptual basis we need to develop our strategy for Quora. The first lesson is that any fundamental question should have exactly ten answers to it. The second lesson is that ideally, these questions and answers should all be shown to be interrelated to each other.
GLOBE OF CONCEPTS
Quora’s log-in page shows us a picture of planet Earth, with open space all around it. Our contention is that a globe would be a great way to maneuver around the site. The introduction of partzufim also shifted the world of mapping knowledge into something three-dimensional. In the language of Kabbalah, ideas start off as points (nikudah) and then lines (kav). But only when concepts become expansive areas (shetach), can a complete and rectified view of reality take hold (for a great explanation of this, please read here).
To begin mapping out the Quora site, much like we have Wiki Answers to sum up the answers, we also need a Wiki Questions to collect the questions, and pool them all together. This task is fundamental to Quora’s longevity because ultimately, there is a finite number of questions (like the finite number of stars, constellations, etc… contained in finite space). Instead, the real potential for growth is with the answers as we will explain.
Does this mean that Quora should turn off the ability to write questions? Maybe. But in the meantime, like new pictures coming from the Hubble telescope, new findings from the Curiosity rover, the pool is not complete yet … although it’s getting close.
Now back to our globe. We are interested in the question “Why do I always feel like I’m too late for all the startup trends, how can I be at the front of the trends, executing?” so we zoom in to see the ten primary answers. The present-day four-point answer from Robert Scoble sums up what would be answers 7-10 using our partzuf model.
7. Victory (Netach, the sefirah that relates most to receiving instruction from an educator or teacher): “Study the journalists. If you watch the journalists who cover tech, you can often see tech trends before others do who don’t follow the news that closely.”
8. Acknowledgement (Hod, the sefirah that relates most to the economy and the flow of money and echoing the actions of others): “Study the money. Investors see everything before other groups. So, watch what they talk about.”
9. Foundation (Yesod, the sefirah that relates most to programming, the communication sciences, and tools for productivity): “Study the programming tools. When a new tool comes along, it often predicts what kinds of technologies will be built in the future.”
10. Kingdom (Malchut, the sefirah that relates to leadership and the state of the world itself): “Study the startups themselves. Startups often tell you what they are seeing..”
As this is only an exercise, we will leave 1-6 uncharted for now. Although by looking at the other answers, the entire partzuf of this question could then be mapped out.
FROM ANSWER TO ANSWER
But we needn’t stop there. If we want to zoom further into answer 10 for instance, then we would be venturing forth into the greater issue of business leadership. More than observing and emulating leaders, the natural progression would then be to uncover what qualities make a great leader, and so forth. Let’s bring another seemingly unrelated question on Quora, to show how to begin constructing a three-dimensional global map of concepts.
Now you may ask, what does sliced bread have to do with coming late to the scene? The simple answer is that this question is a mirror-reflection of the previous question. The first described a person who wanted to transition from being an observer to an inventor. It seems the opposite was true with sliced bread. The widespread popularity came not from the inventor, Otto Frederick Rohwedder, but from a company called Wonder Bread that later marketed the concept.
Here’s how we answered the question:
“Before sliced bread there were loaves. Now the task of consuming a loaf is rather curious. While the benefit of the end product was readily apparent, the ability to consume it was a quandary. Sure, you can use your own knife … but then you are buying two products: a loaf of bread and a knife.
Why has the sliced bread machine become synonymous with technological advancement and innovation? Because it portrays the hope that amidst the exponential surge of technological innovation and invention, lies the hope that all of this will somehow make our lives more simple and peaceful.
When viewed in this light, the question is not whether Wonder Bread was something wondrous, but rather, what made the concept of sliced bread so attractive and marketable to begin with?
We are not enthralled with the sliced bread machine, but the “wondrous” promise that it presented of the future. So too, in our times, the most wondrous innovation we could expect and hope for is to reinvent ourselves.”
FROM LEGS TO HEAD
We explained above, the “legs” of one partzuf enclothe to become the “head” of the next. The two questions we have just now presented are an example of this. The “legs” of the first question corresponds to the 10th concept (kingdom/malchut) presented above. Then from Robert Scoble’s answer to “study the startups themselves,” we delved deeper into what it is we are actually observing in these business leaders.
Seen in this light, the second question is the “head” to the “legs” of the first. Now that Scoble has encouraged us to observe startups, what should we observe? The answer we provided corresponds to the supernal crown (keter), the first of the sefirot, and the one that also relates most to experiencing a sense of wonder.
Ideally, the remaining answers to the question would provide us with nine other inventions. Upon analysis of each of these nine, we should also be able to map these along the same partzuf as the “wonder” concept behind Wonder Bread.
QUORUM OF ANSWERS
For anyone who has followed thus far (if you haven’t, please contact us with questions), it then becomes clear that mapping and navigating through answers is of primary importance. Any given answer to one question, could then be exponentially drilled down into more and more parts.
In our present discussion, we started within one question, but then began drilling one of the ten answers down into another ten. But there is no reason to stop there, so we go from 1 to 10, 100, 10000, etc…
This may be hard to imagine, how one comment can be magnified to such an extreme, but this is the nature of how the overlapping of partzufim works. Once all questions are mapped out along points around the globe, then users will be able to zoom in and out as they like. Skipping from question to question, and zooming within one question, through deeper and deeper layers of answers.
In short, this is the idea behind developing a working three-dimensional mapping of concepts for Quora.com.
For those interested, we also related this concept to the Research-in-Motion’s Blackberry device in our article “Blackberry, Blackberry Everywhere.”
Written with the help of material from Inner.org.