Why I quit Quora and Medium for good

It’s not a temporary rage-quit; I’ve deleted both accounts. I have zero followers, no content, and no username. I’m outta there.

This is going to be more interesting than it sounds, I promise.

When I first joined Quora in 2011, I loved it, with a few small reservations. Then, after some run-ins with what I regarded as unreasonable moderation, I started to dislike it; I even temporarily quit in 2015. Then the events of 2018 gave me a new perspective on social media in general. I re-evaluated Quora again, and found it wanting. So I deleted my account today, for good. All my followers and articles are gone.

I went through a similar process with Medium two weeks ago.

Why? Glad you asked.

Digital sharecropping

Until maybe 2012 or so, if you had asked me, I would have said that I am a confirmed and fairly strict open source/open content/open data guy, and the idea of people happily developing content, without a financial or ownership stake, to benefit a for-profit enterprise had always bothered me. It bothered me in 2000 when Jimmy Wales said the job he hired me for—to start a new encyclopedia—would involve asking volunteers to developed free content hosted by a for-profit company (Bomis). I was happy when, in 2003, the Bomis principals gave Wikipedia to a non-profit.

(Ironically, not to mention stupidly, in 2011 Jimmy Wales tried to blame me for Bomis’ original for-profit, ad-based business model. Unfortunately for his lie, I was able to find evidence that, in fact, it had been his idea.)

In 2006, technology journalist Nicholas Carr coined the phrase “digital sharecropping“, saying that “Web 2.0,”

by putting the means of production into the hands of the masses but withholding from those same masses any ownership over the product of their work, provides an incredibly efficient mechanism to harvest the economic value of the free labor provided by the very many and concentrate it into the hands of the very few.

This bothers me. I’m a libertarian and I support capitalism, but the moral recommendability of building a business on the shoulders of well-meaning volunteers and people merely looking to socialize online struck me, as it did Carr, as very questionable. I even remember writing an old blog post (can’t find it anymore) in which I argued, only half-seriously, that this practice is really indefensible, particularly if users don’t have a governance stake.

The moral recommendability of building a business on the shoulders of well-meaning volunteers and people merely looking to socialize online struck me as very questionable.

The rise of social media, and joining Quora and Medium

By 2010, despite having been an active Internet user for over 15 years, my perspective started changing. I didn’t really begrudge Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube their profits anymore. The old argument that they are providing a useful service that deserves compensation—while still a bit questionable to me—made some sense. As to the rather obvious privacy worries, at that stage they were mainly just worries. Sure, I knew (as we all did) that we were trusting Facebook with relatively sensitive data. I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. (That sure changed.)

If you were plugged in back then, you regularly joined new communities that seemed interesting and happening. Quora was one; I joined it in 2011. It struck me as a somewhat modernized version of the old discussion communities we had in the 1990s—Usenet and mailing lists—but, in some ways, even better. There was very lightweight moderation, which actually seemed to work. A few years later I joined Medium, and as with Quora, I don’t think I ever heard from their moderators in the first few years. If I did, I was willing to admit that maybe I had put a toe over the line.

Within a few days, Quora actually posted a question for me to answer: “What does Larry Sanger think about Quora?” Here is my answer in full (which I’ve deleted from Quora along with all my other answers):

Uhh…I didn’t ask this.  It’s a bit like fishing for compliments, eh Quora team? But that’s OK, I am happy to compliment Quora on making a very interesting, engaging website.

Quora is pretty interesting. It appeals to me because there are a lot of people here earnestly reflecting–this I think must be partly due to good habits started by the first participants, but also because the question + multiple competing answers that mostly do not respond to each other means there is more opportunity for straightforward reflection and less for the usual bickering that happens in most Internet communities.

A long time ago (I’m sure one could find this online somewhere, if one looked hard enough) I was musing that it’s odd that mailing lists are not used in more ways than they are. It seemed to me that one could use mailing list software to play all sorts of “conversation games,” and I didn’t know why people didn’t set up different sorts of rule systems for different kinds of games.

What impresses me about Quora is that it seems to be a completely new species of conversation game.  Perhaps it’s not entirely new, because it’s somewhat similar to Yahoo! Answers, but there aren’t as many yahoos on Quora, for whatever reason, and other differences are important.  Quora’s model simply works better.  Quora users care about quality, and being deep, and Yahoo! Answerers generally do not.  I wonder why that is.

But unlike Yahoo! Answers, Quora doesn’t seem to be used very much for getting factual information. Quora users are more interested in opinionizing about broad, often philosophical questions, which I find charming and refreshing. But for this reason, it’s not really a competitor of Wikipedia or Yahoo! Answers (or Citizendium…). It’s competing with forums.

I think it needs some more organizational tools, tools that make it less likely that good questions and answers aren’t simply forgotten or lost track of. Or maybe there already are such tools and I don’t know about them.

As I re-read this, some points have taken on a new meaning. I chalked up Quora’s failure to provide more robust search tools to it being at a relatively early stage (it was started in two years earlier by a former Facebook CTO), and the ordinary sort of founder stubbornness, in which the founders have a vision of how a web app should work, and as a result don’t give the people what they actually want. I see now that they had already started to execute a new approach to running a website that I just didn’t recognize at the time. It was (and is) very deliberately heavy-handed and top-down, like Facebook. They let you see what they want you to see. They try to “tailor” the user experience. And clearly, they do this not to satisfy explicit user preferences. They don’t care much about user autonomy. Their aim is apparently to keep users on the site, to keep them adding content. If you choose to join, you become a part of their well-oiled, centrally managed machine.

Quora and Medium, like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, make it really hard for you to use their sites on your own terms, with your own preferences. You’re led by the hand and kept inside the rails. Before around 2008, nobody could imagine making a website like that. Well, they existed, but they were for children and corporations.

I could see this, of course. But all the big social media sites were the same way. I guess I tolerated what looked like an inevitable takeover of the once-decentralized Internet by a more corporate mindset. I suppose I hoped that this mindset wouldn’t simply ruin things. By 2012, I was already deeply suspicious of how things were turning out.

But now it’s just blindingly obvious to me that the Silicon Valley elite have ruined the Internet.

Increasingly heavy-handed and ideological “moderation”

Maybe the first or second times I heard from Quora’s moderation team, I was merely annoyed, but I still respected their attempts to keep everything polite. I thought that was probably all it was. That’s what moderation used to be, anyway, back when we did it in the 90s and 00s. But I noticed that Quora’s moderation was done in-house. That struck me as being, well, a little funny. There was something definitely off about it. Why didn’t they set some rules and set up a fair system in which the community effectively self-moderated? They obviously had decent coders and designers who could craft a good community moderation system. But they didn’t…

I see now only too well that the reason was that they wanted moderation to be kept in house, and not just because it was important to get right; it was because they wanted to exert editorial control. At first, it seemed that they had business reasons for this, which I thought was OK, maybe. But as time went on and as I got more moderation notices for perfectly fair questions and polite comments, it became clear that Quora’s moderation practices weren’t guided merely by the desire to keep the community pleasant for a wide cross-section of contributors. They were clearly enforcing ideological conformity. This got steadily worse and worse, in my experience, until I temporarily quit Quora in 2015, and I never did contribute as much after that.

Similarly, Medium’s moderators rarely if ever bothered me, until they took down a rather harsh comment I made to a pedophile who was defending pedophilia. (He was complaining about an article I wrote explaining why pedophilia is wrong. I also wrote an article about why murder is wrong.) I hadn’t been sufficiently polite to the pedophile, it seems. So, with only the slenderest explanations, Medium simply removed my comment. That’s what caused me to delete my Medium account.

They don’t care much about user autonomy. Their aim is apparently to keep users on the site, to keep them adding content. If you choose to join, you become a part of their well-oiled, centrally managed machine.

You don’t have to agree with my politics to agree that there is a problem here. My objection is not just about fairness; it’s about control. It’s about the audacity of a company, which is profiting from my unpaid content, also presuming to control me, and often without explaining their rather stupid decisions. It’s also not about the necessity of moderation. I’ve been a moderator many times in the last 25 years, and frankly, Internet communities suck if they don’t have some sort of moderation mechanism. But when they start moderating in what seems to be an arbitrary and ideological way, when it’s done in-house in a wholly opaque way, that’s just not right. Bad moderation used to kill groups. People would leave badly-moderated groups in droves.

Lack of intellectual diversity in the community

Being on the web and not artificially restricted by nationality, Quora and Medium do, of course, a global user base. But they are single communities. And they’re huge; they’re both in the top 250. So whatever answer most users vote up (as filtered by Quora’s secret and ever-changing sorting algorithm), and whoever is most popular with other Quora voters, tends to be shown higher.

Unsurprisingly—this was plainly evident back in 2011—Quora’s community is left-leaning. Medium is similar. That’s because, on average, intellectual Internet writers are left-leaning. I didn’t really have a problem with that, and I wouldn’t still, if we hadn’t gotten absolutely stunning and clear evidence in 2018 that multiple large Internet corporations openly and unashamedly use their platforms to put their thumbs on the scales. They simply can’t be trusted as fair, unbiased moderators, particularly when their answer ranking algorithms and the moderation policies and practices are so opaque.

In addition, a company like Quora should notice that different cultures have totally different ways of answering life’s big questions. The differences are fascinating, too. By lumping us all together, regardless of nationality, religion, politics, gender, and other features, we actually miss out on the full variety of human experience. If the Quora community’s dominant views aren’t copacetic to you, you’ll mostly find yourself in the cold, badly represented and hard to find.

Silicon Valley, your experiment is over

Look. Quora, like Medium, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others, have been outed as shamelessly self-dealing corporations. It’s gone way beyond “digital sharecropping.” The problem I and many others have with these companies isn’t just that they are profiting from our unpaid contributions. It’s that they have become ridiculously arrogant and think they can attempt to control and restrict our user experience and our right to speak our minds under fair, reasonable, and transparent moderation systems. And while the privacy issues that Quora or Medium have aren’t as profound as for Facebook, they are there, and they come from the same controlling corporate mindset.

So that’s why I’ve quit Quora and Medium for good. I hope that also sheds more light on why I’m leaving Facebook and changing how I use Twitter.

As if to confirm me in my decision, Quora doesn’t supply any tools for exporting all your answers from the site. You have to use third-party tools (I used this). And after I deleted my account (which I did just now), I noticed that my account page and all my answers were still there. The bastards force you to accept a two-week “grace period,” in case you change your mind. What if I don’t want them to show my content anymore, now? Too bad. You have to let them continue to earn money from your content for two more weeks.

Clearly, they aren’t serving you; you’re serving them.

We’ve been in an experiment. Many of us were willing to let Internet communities be centralized in the hands of big Silicon Valley corporations. Maybe it’ll be OK, we thought. Maybe the concentration of money and power will result in some really cool new stuff that the older, more decentralized Internet couldn’t deliver. Maybe they won’t mess it up, and try to exert too much control, and abuse our privacy. Sure! Maybe!

The experiment was a failure. We can’t trust big companies, working for their own profit, to make good decisions for large, online communities. The entire industry has earned and richly deserves our distrust and indignation.

So, back to the drawing board. Maybe we’ll do better with the next, more robustly decentralized and democratic phase of the Internet: blockchain.

We’ll get this right eventually, or die trying. After all, it might take a while.

We’ve been in an experiment. Many of us were willing to let Internet communities be centralized in the hands of big Silicon Valley corporations. Maybe it’ll be OK, we thought. … The experiment was a failure.




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Please do dive in (politely). I want your reactions!

43 responses to “Why I quit Quora and Medium for good”

  1. robert durham

    Yes all of these complainants are honest, true and sadly accurate.

  2. Christopher Range

    I must be on probation. Because my questions n’ are both being removed.

    1. I had well over a dozen questions removed during the last few years I was working on Quora. The behavior of their moderators in what should be a politically neutral forum is pretty ridiculously biased. They’re dropping in website rankings anyway. Good riddance.

    2. Chris K

      I’m personally considering leaving Quora due to my sincere and thoughtful questions being answered with condescension or criticism. Instead of answering my question, they want to analyze my question. By the way, these aren’t pot stirring type questions..

  3. Rick Vu

    Yes, it appears Quora is far from their name sake and just another biased medium where only those with approved opinions and positions on topics are allowed to participate. After over a year of posting comments, I was just banned from responding due to a claim from a Moderator that I violated the Real Name policy. I use my real initials, which does not violate any clause in Quora’s policies.

    However, I recently posted a response which highlighted data and comparisons between Covid 19 and seasonal influenza which indicated that influenza is far more virulent and deadly than Covid 19. Suddenly, I am in violation and banned. I disputed the claim and politely asked Quora to terminate my subscription if they still deemed that I was in violation of their Real Name policy.

  4. Up to a point, Lord Copper…

    I’ve done some moderation in my time ( the thrill soon passes ), and the reason these large and oftimes unpleasant giants may have to do in-house moderation is because many jurisdictions are bent on making sites responsible for anything a lunatic may write — unknown to the site-owners — or upload ( PIRACY ! ) or complain about simply because they can.

  5. richard davis

    I received a real-time flashing notice of a “violation” by me. I don’t accept that kind of interference in my rights, so I deleted the account. I am a very good belle-weather so it is them getting the kiss-off, not me. It is a very contemptible platform and I expect it to go down.

    1. Victoria Martine

      Would you kindly furnish more detail in regards to what they determind was a violation? And how that interfered with your rights/?

  6. John Holter

    I am a Quora user but I accept Larry’s comments includings the responses. However, you may be missing the point. I am required to answer questions from the Cora family member. Therefore I have to use my best judgment with the word choices and how to frame response.

    Larry, you and the folks who have left Quora are discussing the cancer of the media. There is no more Free Press because the media parasites are sucking the life out of the tree.
    I am sad that you left the Quora family because you represent the other Side of the reality scale.

    I am still in the family because I am required to answer questions from members who quite often demonstrate a sincere naïveté. Not a single other social media comes close.

  7. > And after I deleted my account (which I did just now), I noticed that my account page and all my answers were still there. The bastards force you to accept a two-week “grace period,” in case you change your mind. What if I don’t want them to show my content anymore, now?

    Oddly, this seems counter to what Quora writes in a comment in their robots.txt file (https://www.quora.com/robots.txt) about why they block the Wayback Machine:

    # People share a lot of sensitive material on Quora – controversial political
    # views, workplace gossip and compensation, and negative opinions held of
    # companies. Over many years, as they change jobs or change their views, it is
    # important that they can delete or anonymize their previously-written answers.
    # We opt out of the wayback machine because inclusion would allow people to
    # discover the identity of authors who had written sensitive answers publicly and
    # later had made them anonymous, and because it would prevent authors from being
    # able to remove their content from the internet if they change their mind about
    # publishing it. As far as we can tell, there is no way for sites to selectively
    # programmatically remove content from the archive and so this is the only way
    # for us to protect writers. If they open up an API where we can remove content
    # from the archive when authors remove it from Quora, but leave the rest of the
    # content archived, we would be happy to opt back in. See the page here:
    # https://archive.org/about/exclude.php
    # Meanwhile, if you are looking for an older version of any content on Quora, we
    # have full edit history tracked and accessible in product (with the exception of
    # content that has been removed by the author). You can generally access this by
    # clicking on timestamps, or by appending “/log” to the URL of any content page.
    # For any questions or feedback about this please visit our contact page
    # https://help.quora.com/hc/en-us/requests/new

  8. Random engineer

    I left Quora just recently because I caught myself becoming a troll.
    The sheer amount of stupidity, religious dogma or just some users who by themselves posting 100 question a day one more dumb than the other.

    At first I just slowly drifted from logical explanations to sarcasm and then to outright sneering since those people don’t post there to get an answer. I don’t actually know what they want. Impose their viewpoint on the world?

    So I just outright quit deleted the account and am very happy I did.

    1. Leonardo Martins

      The same for me, not just religious dogma, but also atheists acting like nutty zealots and answering religious/spiritual questions with sarcasm and still acting as if they were “smart” people and impose their viewpoint on everyone as well, without mention the questions about politics/philosophy as well, Quora often put good answers on the bottom and bad answers on the top. You can be atheist, religious, spiritual or whatever, but rather reading a book or an article about those themes instead of Quora answers. I also acted as a troll and creating fake accounts for asking things, until I realized it’s a waste of time and I’ve decided to stop doing so. I am still mad that Google still show Quora questions/answers on the top results, but I guess I will get used to it over the time.

  9. […] conta do que considera um viés político cada vez mais pronunciado e específico — ele também abandonou Quora e Medium pela falta de diversidade intelectual. Como a Wikipédia é amplamente usada como […]

  10. Latasha Hall

    Hello there,

    My Name is Latasha, recently I have gotten to the point and give up on quora for their false information about a covid shot. I did some research for something that can overcome a covid shot. Not only was I told not to, but some older gentleman made fun of me for thinking such things, and now that I see the dark truth about Quora. I’ve decided not to listen to any more advice from there. It made no sense and it wasn’t helpful as I thought. Do yourself a favor and remove yourself from the toxic advice website.

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