Reddit has long held a monopoly on Q&A – or at least asking questions to well-known people, companies and professions in an open environment. Their AMA and IAMA subreddits are unadulterated madness, with people from Bill Murray to Tim Berners-Lee taking questions from anyone on the Internet and providing surprisingly honest answers.
Some websites, however, are beginning to take swings at “the front page of the Internet” in hopes of chipping away at the Reddit monopoly. I’m not so sure they’re going to land any solid punches.
The first was the social network Tumblr in June, launching Answer Time, a forum where users can submit questions to a particular personality each week over the course of a few days, and the subject can choose the questions to answer at their own discretion at a scheduled time. Over the past few months, some subjects have been author Stephanie Meyer, actor Tom Hanks and scientist Bill Nye.
Tumblr seems pretty focused on “celebrities” – or at least well-known, catchy names – while Reddit allows anyone to host an AMA, sometimes scheduling big name celebrities. Reddit also hosts a number of simultaneous AMAs and IAMAs in a day, while Tumblr focuses on one at a time.
Recently, a new player jumped in the mix and, as their name would suggest, they know a thing or two about questions already; Quora launcheda series of question-answer sessions called Writing Sessions, focused on sharing the insights of “experts” who are at the forefront of “topics that are important to humanity”.
Similar to Tumblr’s Answer Time, questions are submitted in advance, but in a public setting for users to see and upvote, similar to Reddit. The difference is that moderators, since they have days to screen the questions, can clear the trolls and inappropriate questions to maintain an intellectual credibility within the sessions.
Quora’s primary function has been to serve as a very general question-and-answer website. Recently, it has been trying to find a way to cultivate more compelling content in a more compelling way; Writing Session appears to be its solution. Quora has a schedule of people lined up for its Writing Sessions through the middle of December, with one or two a week, including Hadi Partovi, CEO and founder of Code.org, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, and Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and founder of Lean In.
The biggest problem with both Quora’s and Tumblr’s challenges to AMA is the amount of control they want to exert over the dialogue and the amount of filtering they seem to want to impose, or at least enable. Most would agree that Reddit’s AMA is appealing because of the chaos, the unpredictability and the ongoing aspiration of unfettered authenticity. While Reddit trusts its community and its subjects to adequately tackle the triage, Quora and Tumblr are worried about moderation and mitigating a certain degree of transparancy..
In other words, at a high level, Reddit is kind of like watching a live cross-examination in court while its challengers are kind of like reading a massaged interview in Entertainment Weekly.
Reddit is sometimes known as “the wild west” of the Internet, and has been cracking down recently on toxic communities. One thing they shouldn’t mess with, however, is the AMA. The format is unrestricted, completely community-based, allowing everyday people to ask the questions they may never get to ask outside of the liberating medium that is the Internet. Quora and Tumblr can try as hard as they want, but I don’t think moderation will open the doors to taking on Reddit. Reddit thrives because of its open stance, and unwrangled AMAs are right at the center of its gravity.
Patrick Hoff is a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who has spent the last three years writing and editing at his college newspaper, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian. He has written for a number of publications, including Jyrno and The Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Massachusetts, as well as writing for the blog at the Institute for Community Inclusion.
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