Gopalkrishna Vishwanath is an alumnus of BITS Pilani. At the age when most people retire and relax, he gained stardom on quora counting over 206,000 followers, with 80.8 million content views, & 8905 answers. He is loved by the young crowd for his witty opinions on seemingly mundane affairs. He wins hearts everyday with his humour, wit, and crisp answers.
We talked to him and found at the age of 72, he is still 21 with immense energy and enthusiasm. He tags himself as an internet/social media enthusiast who has worked for 28 years as a structural engineer at MECON Ltd. He also has set up, owned and managed a small design and detailing company of his own for 6 years. He then sold the company and continued as an advisor till end of 2011 and is currently leading a retired life.
You are one of Quora’s most-followed writers, with more than 2 Lakh followers. Can you shed some light on how it all began?
It all got down to July 2015 when I put up with my daughter in California for a longish stay of 6 months. My daughter and son-in-law used to be at their workplaces, leaving my wife and me alone, with no occupation. I could not relate to foreign TV programs, so I started spending days with my laptop and surfing google.
Invariably, the first link or one among the top few links that Google popped up used to be Quora answers. When it became repetitive, I got curious to explore the platform, and it led me to perceive Quora was just what I was looking for; it catered to my needs and allowed me to indulge in my passion for writing and offered me a viewership incredible in its geographical reach and diversity. It met my need for internet socialization, gathering information, and improving my knowledge. Moreover, it kept me pleasantly occupied and assisted me to avoid depression and loneliness during these days of retired life.
How has the popularity of quora affected you in real life?
Not one bit! Not even a dog wags its tail when he sees me (he giggles) in real life. In truth, I enjoy blissful anonymity. Even my family members don’t think about my Quora popularity, and my children know I am active here, but they don’t read my writings unless I send them a link to some answer I feel they should read. Though they are familiar with all my views, they are not curious about my writings. On the other hand, they are not well pleased with my transparency and openness on this platform and have repeatedly cautioned me against writing and unveiling too much. They even don’t want me to write anything about them on a public platform, and I respect their privacy desire.
My neighbors, relatives, and acquaintances are hardly aware of Quora, and on some occasions, when friends ask me what I do to keep myself occupied, I tell them I spend time on Quora. “Kora? what’s that?” they ask. My wife is rather amused at my popularity on this platform and does not take it seriously. I once heard her tell her friends who asked her what I do sitting with my laptop for so many hours a day, “I don’t know what he does except answer all sorts of questions that all sorts of strangers ask him. He has no answers to give me when I ask him but he seems to know everything about every subject when people ask him on Quora!” When I once told her about the number of followers, she blurted out,
“How many of your followers will cook a meal for you? remember I am your only true follower and have followed you for 45 years.”
That directly brings me down to earth. Her statement instantly made me realize that online popularity is ephemeral. If the site closes down, all the followers vanish in an instant, unlike real-life life humans.
Your answers bring criticism and praise from around the world. How do you deal with the polarisation and trolling?
Praise is, of course, pleasant to read. But I have not allowed it to go to my head. I welcome criticism, take it seriously, and often review my thoughts. In case I make a mistake, freely acknowledge it, make corrections, and publicly thank the person who criticizes me. If I disagree with the criticism, I politely offer clarification, and if that too is rebutted and results in further criticism, I quietly end the debate and do not respond anymore. I never try to have the last word and allow my opponent to have a sense of privilege and satisfaction. I just mute, block, and report them. And at last, let slip them off my mind.
Do you earn from quora? If yes, how? From the partner program or promotions?
Yes, I used to earn well from Quora in 2019. I am a Quora Partner, and it pays its partners to ask good questions that drive traffic and result in many answers and ad impressions on those answers. If those ad impressions are clicked on, the app makes money and shares a part of an amount with the person who asked it. This share was attractive in 2018 and 2019. I was an active partner in 2019 and made $4200 that year, asking questions in Hindi and English.
My peak earnings were $744, and average earnings were $330 per month in August 2019. Unfortunately, Quora has reduced payments to its partners significantly. Since February 2020, my earnings have declined by 90 percent. My average earning is nearly $30 a month, where I ask about 15 to 20 questions a day; while most of my questions earn no money, some of them make a few cents. One in ten questions earns me a dollar or two, and one in 20 questions earns me more than that. Unlike many people who ask questions only for the money and then forget about the question and never read the answers, I follow all the questions and read all the answers. I am not one of those who spam the board with hundreds of inane questions. However, I ask questions, not for money but for better engagement with my readers. Most of my questions get several answers from readers, there are comments on those answers, and I follow them.
Coming on to your next question, I am not willing to lose my reputation on this forum at the altar of money, due to which I have avoided earning from promotions. Owing to my large following and visibility on this forum, in truth, I have received many offers to be a Quora influencer and promote some products, to post answers written by others under my name. Moreover, I have been asked to quote my price to make prominent mention of certain commercial websites or products in my answers and even write favorable reviews of products, and some have even offered to register the content for me to post it. I have continually spurned all these offers.
With 200k followers, you also have a sense of responsibility. How do you deal with the political aspect of the questions and their answers?
I usually don’t write much about politics. But I would like to say, I am a Modi fan and make no bones about it. I have been called a bhakt and proudly wear that badge. I believe I have all the right to have my personal views; I don’t claim to be neutral or impartial and free from bias. Every one of my followers knows this, so no one expects me to write with a sense of responsibility on political matters. I also keep away from debating with those who hold political views opposite to mine.
Interviewed by Tushant Baranwal and Yogita Malhotra