Engineering a Quora answer for 4k+ upvotes

Upvotes have almost stopped trickling in, and I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t share the experience now.

A few friends and I were discussing Anonymity on Quora and veracity of anonymous answers. That discussion still fresh in my mind, I saw a lot of my programmer friends upvoting an answer to “How did you meet your first girlfriend/boyfriend?”. What makes this answer get a 1000+ uvotes, I wondered. If you look at the ridiculous number of “IITians and girls” questions on Quora, you’ll realize what made that answer so popular.

“Hmm… the answer appeals to all those hardcore computer science students for whom, a girlfriend is just the stuff of dreams. When they see someone finding his girlfriend in a programming contest, surely the answer’s gonna sell like hotcakes. Further, true to the typical Indian mindset, quite a few readers would find ‘we are going to marry soon’ very aww-inspiring.”

“Can I come up with a formula, which takes such factors actively into account? I want to beat this answer in number of upvotes. I want to engineer an answer which will be the highest voted answer for this question!”

So I thought. It was decided.

Target audience? Indians. There are a whole lot of Indians on Quora, and more importantly, I am more likely to get the ‘formula’ right for Indians than anyone else.

It seems like a lot of Quora users are avid readers. Why not base the story around reading? These readers will upvote.

It’s been fashionable among the so called ‘intellectual elite’ to bash and ridicule Chetan Bhagat. Let me make fun of him. These people will upvote.

You know what? It’s very rare to find someone from our generation who is not a Harry Potter fan. Also, people seem to take Snape for an epitome of love, a symbol of tragedy. Let me add a reference to Harry Potter and Snape. The fans will upvote.

Slightly older people? If the story ended with the couple happily married, add to that, expecting a baby (“Aww, how cute!”, yes I know), it was sure to clinch a few more upvotes from the “God bless you two and your baby” people.

I thought if I wrote the answer from the girl’s perspective, it would be more ‘aww-inspiring’, and people will be less suspicious of it being fake. (Well, thinking of it as fake in itself wouldn’t have been a problem as long as you upvoted :P). Also, make the narrator a girl, place her in some far off place I’ve never been to, and it’ll be distant from the fabricator of the story (yours truly) and I felt an irrational feeling of safety in that.

I went ahead and wrote the answer.

Aftermath:
Many people commented on the answer with their best wishes. I must admit, for the initial time when I was kind of ‘in the character’, I actually felt nice and warm because of those compliments and good wishes!

The Chetan Bhagat part of the story seemed to resonate a lot with the readers. Quite a few comments were exclusively about Chetan Bhagat! Also, people seemed to have liked the “James and Severus” beyond my expectations. Man, I tell you, the rush of excitement I felt! As the upvotes were flowing in… as the congratulatory comments were rolling… as people were arguing whether or not it was a fake answer (from both sides)…

Some of my friends’ reactions (before I told them it was fake):
“Man! This answer is really good. There’s some hope in this world, after all!” — a sentimental one.

“You know, this answer’s good. I don’t care whether the anon wrote a story or whether it is true. It makes people feel nice and that’s a good thing.” — an analytical one.

“It gave me goosebumps!” — a dreamy one who’s a Harry Potter fan.

When I told it is fake:
The sentimental one: “You manipulative bastard! You shouldn’t play with people’s emotions!”

The analytical one: “As I said, what’s the big deal if it is fake. But boy! I think you are projecting your own fantasies in this answer!”

The Harry Potter fan: “You are a moron, and I don’t even feel bad for being rude.”

“OMG! You are so weird!!!”

“Good one, man! If you feel like giving some of those credits away, I’m calling dibs.”

“Ha ha ha, you upvote-greedy fello!”

“Yes, I always thought it is fabricated. But you! You!!!”

How I felt:
As upvotes started raining, I felt a surge of excitement, a sense of achievement, a sense of triumph (Yeah, yeah, go ahead, make fun of me now!).

When my friend called me a ‘manipulative bastard’… well, it felt bad. He had put a bug in my head. “Am I really playing with people’s emotions? Am I such a bad person? A filthy liar?” I felt I should delete the answer, maybe write a post apologizing for what I did and “absolve myself of the ‘sins’”.

“What if it is actually a case of myself projecting my fantasies?”
“Nah! Bonding over books definitely falls in ‘friendship’ category and not ‘romantic relationship’ category”
“Think, think, are you sure you never fantasized this?”
“Yeah man, damn sure. Now shut up!”

Someone on Quora went great lengths to ‘expose’ the answer. While defending myself, I felt the difficulties and complexities one needs to put up with in order to defend a lie. Invent more lies to explain earlier lies, then make sure that the new ones are still consistent with everything existing. Man, I felt exhausted. It is a daunting task. Either I would need a lot of ‘practice’, or I should just steer clear of inventing stuff out of thin air.

When upvotes-inflow dwindled, I decided to write this post. Wasn’t easy. “Should I really be admitting to this?” “A fake-answer writer.” “A liar.” But you know what? Hey! Who cares man!

Concluding remarks:
People hate Chetan Bhagat for his formula novels, for the lack of literary beauty in his writing. They are fed up with the onslaught of cliches, and ‘typical Bollywood style’ distorted and oversimplified concept of romance. Yet, here was a piece choke-full of cliches, a narrative whose literary edge was more blunt than a butter-knife! They liked it! Funny.

Maybe, thinking of the answer as a true story makes you look at it in a totally different light. At least, that’s my theory.

Here’s the answer (in case it vanishes off Quora):
I met him in Crossword. Well, I saw him for the first time in Crossword. He was with a friend of his looking at books when his friend suddenly said “Hey! Look! There’s Chetan Bhagat’s new book ‘Two States’”. Taken aback by this over-enthusiastic exclamation, he replied “you mean Chetan Faggot?”. That was so funny! I tried hard to suppress, but couldn’t. I burst out laughing so hard, tears were coming out of my eyes! He gave me a startled look and then… and then… that ever-so-charming smile of his… he gestured over-the-air-hi-five at me and then went on about his business.

In a moment, he had put a bug in my brain that won’t leave… forever. Later days, so many times I would think of that incident to myself, and smile in a (according to my friend) stupid way. It had been a week and I had no clue how I could ever get to see him again and had already started longing to see him smile, the longing stronger and stronger everyday. Not sure what prompted me, but put this incident on Facebook.
Almost died laughing the other day… heard someone calling Chetan Bhagat “Chetan Faggot” at Crossword!
#ChetanBhagatSucks
Three days later, I was in for the most pleasant surprise of my life… I had a friend request from him! And a message “Oh! you are that girl who cried laughing!”

We started chatting on Facebook regularly, most of the times discussing books. Our tastes in books were so similar! I remember, one night, I had an exam next day; but spent almost five hours chatting with him, discussing ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. It was interesting and strange how within a couple of weeks I was so much at ease with him and how it felt like we shared a bond stronger than I had known anything before…

Later we shifted to phone from Facebook chat and talking on and on for hours together about our favourite books became a routine. Once he mentioned he just loved Tagore, which made me feel a bit ashamed. “Being a Bengali, I haven’t read Tagore!” For next week, I was sitting in classes, reading Tagore under my desk!

Our dates were very special too. We would go around the streets of Delhi, window shopping at the footpath book sellers. All I used to notice was the books, his talking and his smile!

On my birthday, he gifted me a special edition of all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock works. Later that night, I opened the wrappings, when I opened the first book, a note and a pressed rose flower fell down. It said…
The time we spent together, the discussions we had,
they are like this rose flower, worth preserving forever.
Wouldn’t be wrong if I want more of these moments…
It is in your hands whether you want to turn me into James or Severus…
Tears were streaming, smile was blossoming… that was the best birthday I had!

We are now married for a couple of years, expecting a baby in three months ☺

Strange how our mutual hatred for Chetan Bhagat blossomed into the most beautiful thing in my life…

A detailed analysis, a direct attack! (by a Quora user)
Sorry for ruining it, but I think this is fake.

1. How did he find you on facebook? I just ran a search on facebook (public posts) for what you claim to have written as a status message. No results. So either you have your privacy settings set to “Friends of Friends” and you had mutual friends, or you set it to public earlier but changed it later. Even if it was public then, how on earth did he find your status message?
Theoretically possible, but unlikely. Very unlikely.

2. While we’re on the status message, Hashtags were nowhere close to facebook at the time when Two States was released (October 2009). It had started on Twitter only recently (July 2009) and didn’t become popular till 2010. So the probability of you having put a public status message on Facebook that contained a Hashtag is… let’s say, minuscule.

3. Umm.. the pressed rose flower? Nice touch. So he’d written a grammatically incorrect, non-rhyming message for the love of his life? Hard to believe for a person who has enough literary taste to reject Chetan “Faggot” (which, btw, is not funny at all IMO) 
And he wrote it on a rose? Or maybe it was on the third page of the book? Are you forgetting the details of how the most special person in your life proposed to you? Ouch!

I might be wrong or overly suspicious, in which case this comment is extremely mean. Please ignore me, accept my implicit apology, and have a wonderful life with him. If you’ve fudged certain details or have approximated the things said in books and posted on Facebook to protect your anonymity, well, same as above.

In case you’re indeed fake and are now regretting the lack of attention to detail in your lie… better luck next time!

My reply:
>> Sorry for ruining it, but I think this is fake.
Actually, at the time of posting this, I thought, this exact thing would be the majority response…

>> 1. How did he find you on Facebook?
That post was public. But I don’t think Facebook shows posts from strangers in your feed on its own, even if the posts are public (I am no expert though) unless some of your friends like/comment on it. Yes, you are right about there being mutual friends.Two, to be precise. A cousin of mine and a friend of mine from highschool. My cousin had liked it and commented “What a jerk! I don’t know what made you laugh so much…” That is how, he (my husband) tells me how he saw it on Facebook. You are right on another count too, before posting this, I did delete that post. About my anonymity, well, sir, calling anyone a faggot is not an honourable thing to do, their being faggot notwithstanding. I wish I could tell the story without talking about him calling Chetan a ‘faggot’, but I though that it is the crucial part of story and should be there. Only options were either to not post or to post anonymously.

>> Theoretically possible, but unlikely. Very unlikely.
Very unlikely that he saw the post? No.
That my soulmate had been a friend of friend all along? Maybe yes.

>> 2. Possibility of Facebook status that contained a Hashtag is… let’s say, minuscule.
Sometimes answers are much simpler that it is a disappointment. I just did it out of twitter habbit. First thing, I saw him in crossword in December 2010, not 2009. “Two States” was still the latest book by then I guess… Anyway, holding his friend for calling it “new” makes it seem like you are reading too much into the words and trying to find clues when there are none. Maybe he had said “latest”… Please don’t blame me for not remembering whether he said ‘new’ or ‘latest’! I But anyway, I did use hashtags early on, almost all throughout 2010.

>> Grammatically incorrect…
My bad! In the excitement of typing out the answer, I didn’t properly punctuate it and missed out on capitalizing sentences. There was a typo too I guess. Here’s the correct one… 
“The time we spent together, the discussions we had, they are like this rose flower, worth preserving forever [missing full stop]
wouldn’t [missing capital letter] be wrong if I want more of these moments [missing ellipsis]
it [missing capital letter] is [in] your hands whether you want to turn me into James or Severus…”
Thanks for spotting, you could just have suggested an edit…

>> Non-rhyming.
You must be kidding me! Of all the things in that message, you noticed the lack of rhymes? Well, I read emotions and intent more than structure and grammar. You must have heard “puns are the lowest form of humour”… Pardon me, but I think that “rhymes are the lowest form of poetry”. But let as not start a raging discussion on that here!
By the way, even I had thought that he had written a short poem! I found it really sweet, but he says that he never wrote that message as a poem, it was just that… a message.

>> Chetan “Faggot”…
Politically incorrect? Totally. Absolutely. I wish I could tell my story without mentioning it, but thought that it does play a central role in it…
Funny? Well, that’s totally subjective.

>> And he wrote it on a rose?
Whatever gave you that idea! It was a note along with the rose. I think I had mentioned that.

>> I might be wrong or overly suspicious, in which case this comment is extremely mean. 
Actually, it isn’t ☺ I didn’t expect people to believe it much anyway. I wasn’t going to ‘explain’ either… “unrealistic”, “sounds too good to be true” is anyway an expected reaction. But then I saw your post “Possibly fake love story”. Well, the word ‘fake’ did hurt. Strange, the different responses different words with same meaning evoke, isn’t it?

>> Please ignore me, accept my implicit apology, and have a wonderful life with him. 
Haha! Thanks ☺

>> If you’ve fudged certain details protect your anonymity…
Well, I didn’t fudge any details (as far as my imperfect memory could permit). I thought that posting anonymously and deleting that Facebook status is all I needed to do. But yeah, fudging some details to protect anonymity sounds like a nice idea!

>> In case you’re indeed fake…
It would have been so much fun to see the reaction of the fake poster had this actually been a fake story!

P.S. I found it a bit funny that a comment which talks about grammatical correctness, started like…
“I just did *ran* a search on facebook” [should be F, not f]
(just saying that people aren’t always careful while typing stuff)

The doubter finally partially convinced:
I have nothing against you personally, the story just sounded so unreal… in the past I’ve seen a lot of anonymous stories that rang untrue, and I guess I was just venting a bit here.

In any case, now that you’ve taken out the time to write such a lengthy response, I am actually feeling bad about my use of the word “fake” in that post (which I’ve now edited btw).

Also, I agree that rhymes are not an essential part of poetry. It’s just that by this point I was already convinced of fabrication and the poem just seemed another part of it.

Haha, you got me with the “did ran” thing. I’ve corrected it now. You’re right, people can be careless while tpying. (sic)

In case you’re fake (which I still think might be the case, but I’m less sure than before), you have my respect for the awesome reply to my comment.

3 comments :

  1. *slow clap*
    (damn I am missing a lot of social media action, it seems)

    Reply Delete
    1. Hehe. Not much re. I'm there na... to deliver important instances of actions right to your inbox! ;)

      Delete

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