Here at Maven we love finding new ways for smart people to profit from their knowledge. Back in April we ran an experiment to see if Quora could be used to make it easier for our customers and Mavens to connect.

For the uninitiated, Quora is a Q&A website on which people can submit questions and have other people provide answers. Quora claims to be “your best source for knowledge.” While we clearly disagree with that statement (Maven is obviously the best source for professional knowledge and expertise), we had heard enough good things about them over the past couple years to convince us to have a look.

Specifically, we wanted to find out whether there were people answering questions on Quora who could be appropriate experts for some of our customers’ inquiries. If so, we could connect them with paid consulting opportunities, while also helping Quora to generate useful content: a win-win-win-win situation for Maven, Maven’s customers, Quora, and Quora’s participants.

Unfortunately, the experiment was a complete failure.

We started by posting six questions that had recently been submitted to Maven (either on Telephone Consultation requests or as part of Electronic Surveys) to Quora. These were all topics on which our customers had current interest; all had generated substantive responses on Maven within an hour of submission. The questions were:

As noted above, each of these questions generated answers on Maven within one hour of submission. Here is an example Maven response:

What are the 3 most significant advances made within the last 30 years with regards to structure determination of melanin and factors responsible for melanin stability and reactivity?

First, in the broadest scope, the more in-depth characterization of melanin synthesis, stability, structure and reactivity pathways has been incredibly useful within the paradigm of human disease pathology discovery. In the past 30 years, associations have been discovered between aberrant melanin homeostasis and ostensibly unrelated medical issues such as immunodeficiency and neurological disorders, as in Chédiak–Higashi (CHS) and Griscelli (GS) syndromes. This has allowed melanin and melanocytes to not only act as good models for the study of lysosome-related organelles and their related diseases but also as an actual biomarker of such diseases; CHS and GS themselves are commonly referred to as “Silver Hair Disorders”. Advances that allowed such insights into these diseases have been significant in being potentially conducive to illuminating avenues for treatment of these syndromes. Second, in terms of specifically understanding the molecular genetics underlying melanin homeostasis, the past 30 years have been heavily influenced by the work of Dr. Vincent Hearing and colleagues at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Hearing, his lab, and his collaborators have almost single-handedly identified and characterized nearly all of the melanogenic enzymes, including doing much in elucidating their interactions and activities in the context of melanin quality control. It is difficult to pinpoint a single significant advancement made by Dr. Hearing as being any more important than the rest, as each finding naturally lays more foundation for further studies. Nonetheless, some of his most promising work currently lies in utilizing genomic and proteomic approaches to identify particular melanin and melanocyte structures that can be used as antigens for antibody production in order to develop cancer treatments that specifically target melanomas. Third, on the level of biochemistry and structural biology, the advanced characterization of the tyrosinase family of enzymes known for many years to be the quintessential factors involved in melanin biosynthesis. Using tyrosinase as a gateway into disorders of melanin homeostasis, the genes underlying albinism have been revealed and therapeutic targets for CHS and GS have been uncovered. Altogether, these advances demonstrate the importance of understanding melanin and its associated organelle and components for the sake of human disease and general biological understanding.

After posting the questions to Quora we waited. And waited. And waited. After several days no responses had come through, and eventually we forgot about them. However, last week – yes, SIX MONTHS LATER – a first response to one of the questions was received:

As you can see, this response came from an herbalist, not a botanist, biochemist, or other scientist. It reflects some amateur understanding of citrus plant growth characteristics, but yields no true professional insight. This response would not be considered acceptable on Maven.

None of the other questions posted to Quora have received any answers to date. If our customers had used Quora instead of Maven to get answers, they would have been disappointed with the results and forced to make uninformed decisions. Fortunately, they had Maven and successfully gained the knowledge they needed from qualified experts.

Unfortunately this experiment was a failure and reflects Quora’s lack of utility for professional knowledge acquisition. We’ll keep searching for other, more useful tools to help our customers and participants. In the meantime, if you seek answers to questions on topics requiring true professional expertise, skip Quora and call us – Maven is clearly the best source for knowledge.