Why Quora Is Perfect for Life Sciences and Health Care.

Imagine a place where you can ask any question that comes into your head and your question could be answered by anyone in the world with expertise in that area in real-time.  What would you do with it? What questions would you ask?  Imagine being able to showcase your expertise in your field, network with other experts and have lively discussions online, helping you and enabling you to perfect your answers. Imagine this resource of well answered questions from world leading experts is available for everyone to view and participate in.  This is the idea behind Quora.
Quora is a new knowledge social media site, established in June 2009 which is currently attracting over 200,000 subscribers per month as of September 2010 and its users are serious people with some serious knowledge.  Many C-suite executives and real experts from the tech industries have already adopted it and are asking and answering questions,  making industry leaders accessible to the masses.
The social side of it means you can follow specific people, or topics or specific questions.  This means that your feed is always filled with useful information which you have specifically subscribed to.  I see it as an optimized mix of blogging and Wikipedia.  In addition you can link your questions and answers into other social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs to cast the net of knowledge even wider.
There are a few reasons why Quora has the potential to be particularly useful in the life sciences and health care industries which are by nature competitive, collaborative and educational.
  1. The ability to tie user identity with the act of Q&A hugely increases the credibility of the answers posted on Quora.
  2. It allows and even encourages multiple revisions of content for one question, meaning that the information can be kept accurate and current as new data becomes available.
  3. It shows editorial history meaning that through time, you can see how discoveries were made and how ideas developed through multiple contributor interactions
  4. It supports multiple viewpoints
  5. Quora enables very broad as well as very deep information.  The range of topics is very broad and the contributors are from a diverse set of disciplines. The act of asking very specific questions enables the answers to provide very deep content.
I can see the appeal of Quora for Science and health care, Twitter is limiting by 140 characters, Facebook may be a little too social, linked in is based on connection only not information so Quora could be the answer – a professional way to share information and have people follow you based on the knowledge you can contribute.
So how can this platform be used in the Life Sciences and Health care?
  • Collaboration Makes the most of the collaborative nature of science – imagine a scientific theory or answer where details can be added/edited by leading experts from all around the world in a real-time manner like a collaborative paper authored by all the experts in the world who may or may not even know each other!
  • Communities Provides an excellent platform to develop online communities interested in a specific topic. On twitter there is a very tight knit group of tweeters on genomics and personalized medicine.  Quora could be used a platform to aggregate the incredible content created by that community in one place, as a central resource – think communal blogging.
  • Technical Marketing On the commercial side of science – ie biotech companies and tool providers – we have to remember that no one likes being ‘sold to’  especially scientists – Quora can be used as platform to create technical content which can engage scientists interest in your companies products through data and through peer recommendations. In addition it can be used as the channel for collating  technical information as part of an integrated social media strategy.
  • Medical Advice Imagine the implications for learning about disease from a health care perspective – recently, a member of my family was diagnosed with cancer – I obviously wanted to learn about the disease my first thought (having been a Quora user for a while) was to ask the question – ‘What are the latest cutting edge treatments for Hepatocellular carcinoma?’  Within 20 minutes,  a knowledgeable person directed me to a site where all the latest clinical trials are happening.   Quora is currently limited by the fact that there aren’t that many doctors or clinicians on Quora yet – but imagine the implications for health care if multiple doctors were answering that question and others like it in real-time or at least within a few hours? The next generation of medicine will spawn the e-patient – the Empowered patient where we can quickly access all sorts of experts who can give us the latest medical advice.
  • Education It’s the everyday person that will find Quora interesting as its easy to understand and everyone has questions they have always wanted to know the answers too.  Think what this means from an education perspective.  Science is all about dissemination of information and when it comes to health care – education of the masses is key.  One area where this particularly important is in direct to consumer genomics.  Educating the public on the value of genetic information and what the results mean for them.  23&me is in fact one of the very few biotech companies in the space who have actively started participating on Quora – there are a lot of questions asked and many people answering them too.
  • Recruitment Resumes are out and personal branding is in!  When I am recruiting, (for scientific marketing positions) I like to see a candidates ‘digital footprint’  so first i look at them on linked in.  I look at their experience and their recommendations.  I then look at their twitter presence to see what they are tweeting about and how others interact with them.  I love the idea of being able to see how deep a person’s knowledge is, or how good their communication skills by seeing their activity on Quora.  Science and health care consist of some very complex ideas – in marketing these products I would like to see how succinctly a candidate can explain these concepts to the non technical individual
I’m pretty sure that as the user base increases, so will the applications of Quora, but today, Quora is a platform
  • To learn from thought leaders
  • To teach by contributing your knowledge in your area of expertise
  • To discuss with other industry leaders
  • To network through showcasing knowledge rather than by introduction

In health care and the life sciences today the utility of Quora is limited today by lack of adoption – so go and spread the word and let’s make this a ‘go to’ knowledge networking site for all of us in these industries.

If you have more ideas about how we can use Quora in the life sciences and health care – feel free to add them – I would love to hear about them.

5 thoughts on “Why Quora Is Perfect for Life Sciences and Health Care.

  1. Shaifali Puri says:

    Thanks for this very interesting post. I too am intrigued by the Quora question/answer model for generating and surfacing information. But I also wanted to bring your attention to the initiative that I run since it touches upon many of the areas you discuss: http://www.scientistswithoutborders.org We provide a free web-based platform that connects cross-disciplinary, multi-sector science and technology expertise to solve specific development challenges that users pose on the site. The “challenges” and “solutions” that users submit are all open and freely available, and can be edited or commented upon by members of the community. The difference in our model is that we aim to generate and surface specific challenges and solutions that have a science/technology basis or focus and that are aimed at clearly identified problems or needs. We don’t have the power or resources of Facebook engineering and venture capital (yet!), but we have nonetheless gotten a significant amount of traction in a more niche space (which underscores the point about the power of catalyzing participatory communities in the sciences). So your very good points about the potential of these new, open knowledge models in the science space are ones that we are addressing and leveraging. Check us out if you are interested!


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