Quora, the site Business Insider once described as “Wikipedia’s Worst Nightmare”, recently raised another $80 million — or about two years’ worth of Wikimedia Foundation fundraisers. Quora continues to generate strong opinions: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is a fan, while Paul Graham and Andy Baio have some reservations.
Last year, a fun question was asked on Quora: might Wales and Quora founder Adam D’Angelo ever appear together to announce a merger of the two projects? Most scoffed at the possibility — a non-profit and for-profit, merging? — but stranger things have happened.
Adapted from my original answer there, I foresee two contrasting scenarios that could result in such an outcome…
It’s 2017. Wikipedia has modernized to attract new editors, and worldwide, the practice of community crowdfunding for beloved projects keeps growing. That brings the Wikimedia Foundation as much funding as it could possibly use.
Meanwhile, Quora has burnt through most of its funding and fumbled trying to find a sustaining revenue model. It goes through a period of increasingly obnoxious advertising inserts and commercial partnerships. In reaction, its community start discussing how to relocate and re-license their treasured content elsewhere.
Finally, the long-denied Demand Media acquisition happens anyway, and the Quora-diaspora (dias-quora?) reaches out to the Wikimedia Foundation. Can it supply hosting for a truly open-content Q&A site, seeded from forked Quora content, they ask?
The new site is christened Qworum, and D’Angelo and Wales appear together at the Qworum launch event, happy to bring most of the content to a new, permanent home.
Would this be unprecedented? Not at all. See the story of Wikitravel for a analogue. There, the community became unhappy with the corporate stewards of its web presence… and many moved to an alternative project with a new name, bringing forked content. That alternative won Wikimedia Foundation support, becoming a sister project to Wikipedia known as Wikivoyage.
But there’s an alternative scenario where it’s Wikipedia content that needs a new home…
It’s 2017. Content spam and auto-generated content continue to pollute the web in a non-stop arms-race with Google’s algorithms. Quora and Wikipedia both remain as islands of credible, high-quality content… at least for a while. Quora finds a revenue model that doesn’t involve obnoxious marketing, and grows its reputation as a place for reliable information, where casual contributors are rarely inconvenienced by the war with vandals, cranks, and spammers.
But eventually the aging of the Wikipedia editor base, and its failure to attract a new generation who can tolerate both wiki-lawyering and the wiki-learning-curve, bring Wikipedia to a crisis. The spammers and political/religious/insane/commercial-agenda editors (and editor-bots) gradually overwhelm the remaining patrollers (and patrol-bots). Wikipedia becomes more and more the running joke of sketchy material that its critics have always (and usually unfairly) alleged it to be.
Several scandals in rapid succession, involving profiteers and agenda-pushers who have deeply insinuated themselves throughout the community (and perhaps even the Foundation itself), bring Wikipedia to a tipping-point of collapsing credibility. Google displaces Wikipedia from search results with a new in-house Wikipedia fork, Pluspedia — causing traffic and awareness of classic Wikipedia to plummet. The next year, the Wikimedia Foundation’s annual fundraiser collapses to raise just 10% of the prior year’s budget.
As forks proliferate in an attempt to “recapture the magic”, Quora fan Wales sees Quora’s stronger personal-identity and moderation policies as a proven answer, and blesses one particular Quora-hosted fork as Wikipedia’s true heir, WiQipedia.
Google competitors rally around this fork as a neutral alternative to Pluspedia. Wales and D’Angelo appear together at the WiQipedia launch event, already armed with figures about how this fork has begun to reverse the quality decay.
This, too, is has precedent. See for example for-profit Wikia’s acquisition and integration of various themed wikis, when each outgrew their original non-commercial moderation and hosting.
The Likely Path?
Of course neither of these are likely — or at the present moment, anywhere near necessary or desirable.
Wikipedia is vibrant, highly reliable, and raises as much financial support as it needs in its end-of-year appeals.
Quora just topped off its investment-fueled warchest, and can continue on the deliberate-and-steady growth path they’ve chosen.
But in the long run, the net is turmoil, where today’s giant is tomorrow’s footnote. I remember Usenet, Altavista, Geocities, and MySpace. Never say never!