In the past 2 months, I have had the pleasure of meet the leaders of StackExchange (Jeff Atwood) and Quora (Charlie Cheever). I have also been using Quora and UX.StackExchange quite frequently over the last year. They are very different services.
At first, I thought about them as different web applications, specifically, different non-human things. A website is not a person. I thought that each application was conceived and brought to life as an independent thought. After meeting both founders though, I have come to the conclusion that I was thinking about it the wrong way.
Quora and StackExchange are projections of the individual personalities of their founders. I imagine that most applications could say the same thing.
Jeff Atwood, when I met him was clearly the kind of person who likes things to be orderly. He likes his world to be categorized and systematized. He mentioned the word “scope” many times in the sense that questions should have a limited and understood scope. They shouldn’t be open-ended exploratory discussions. Although, I am sure that he would be a fascinating dinner guest with wonderful opinions in open ended discussions, you could easily see his “sweet spot” was in the most specific topics. Bottom line: Jeff’s mind was super orderly.
On the other hand, Charlie Cheever struck me as an explorer. He talked about multi-tasking and context switching. You could see he wanted to think about lots of topics at the same time. His mind wandered and created connections. Bottom line: Charlie’s mind was a neural network.
Quora and StackExchange are projections of these personalities. Quora is a neural net of questions and people. StackExchange (and all of its subsidiary sites) are a fixed taxonomy of objective questions. It is a direct result of the personalities of their founders.
Don’t get me wrong, both Charlie and Jeff are wonderful human beings and are not monochromatic 2 dimensional characters. They are complex like the rest of us. My main point is to think about web applications in the context of the people making decisions about them. You might find they are more related than you thought.