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Summary:

Quora, a new startup from ex-Facebook employees including former CTO Adam D’Angelo, wants to inspire a massive user-created question-and-answer site to compete with Yahoo Answers and Wikipedia. It’s currently in closed beta.

Quora, a new startup from ex-Facebook employees including former CTO Adam D’Angelo, wants to inspire a massive user-created question-and-answer site to compete with Yahoo Answers and Wikipedia. It’s currently in closed beta. We had a chance to talk to co-founder Charlie Cheever (who previously led Facebook Platform and Facebook Connect) in Palo Alto today.

Quora is a very nicely designed site that requires users’ real identities (via their Facebook accounts) to participate, and uses a system of authority (via peer endorsements and personal bios) and voting to inspire good contributions. Once a question is asked and tagged into categories, users with that subject knowledge are alerted to answer it and even revise the question itself for clarity. Users can sign up to follow individual questions, each other and topic areas, and each time they check into the site see the latest updates from each in their feed.

The goal of Quora is not objectivity, said Cheever, but canonical consensus. Quora’s self-defined measure of success will be the number of pages that provide better information than anywhere else on a topic.

In the way that Facebook can be attributed for democratizing the personal web page — which 10 years ago was only available to someone with the chops to put it up — Quora wants to inspire a much broader group of contributors than Wikipedia, said Cheever. At first, it is managing its growth to establish a high standard of contribution. It’s not including any gaming elements, or the concept of a closed (aka satisfactorily answered) question. Everything on the site is very structured — though at the moment it’s somewhat hard to browse.

Along with Wikipedia and Q&A sites, Quora will compete with a range of products trying to provide authoritative or crowdsourced information rather than patching people through to the web to answer their search queries, such as Mahalo, Hunch, Aardvark and Microsoft’s Bing.

Right now Quora is weighted towards information about tech, startups and Palo Alto. It’s rich gossip for a tech journalist — for instance, it was through the site (verified elsewhere) that I learned Mixer Labs, the geo startup recently acquired by Twitter, had been funded by Sequoia Capital. To the extreme, there’s also a page about “How many intra-Facebook marriages have taken place since the company launched?”

However, Cheever described more mainstream (and competitive) uses of Quora such as restaurant and consumer electronics recommendations, as well as even more obscure uses — for instance, he is personally interested in professional players of the video game StarCraft, and asked on Quora “Which non-Koreans have made serious attempts to become professional StarCraft players in the Korean Proleague since 2005?” (At the moment, he’s also provided the site’s only answer to his question.)

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  2. Liz

    Do you have an invite for me? I think it is a very interesting start-up and their approach to adding semblance to what is an increasingly difficult to use web.

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  3. Quora is looking very interesting indeed, but i’m curious to see what it has to offer to outshine great working solutions like Aardvark and StackOverflow. surely the real-time-ity of it gives a certain flare, but do we really need real-time? the IM setup of the first-mentioned above is very close to r-t already, and foremost – it is so in a context that is by convention r-t.

    however, i very much appreciate Cheever’s comment that Quora isn’t trying to provide objectivity. self-evident we might say, but nonetheless a very relevant point to highlight. the information flow is gigantic in todays web, and every service based on user input should embrace this attitude. as i personally see it this is the direction knowledge sharing is going, or, to be more honest, returning to. in the good ol’ analogue days information was always processed in relation to context and a valuation of the source, and perhaps we need to re-realise that, in order to take this web of bubbling information to the next level.

    punchline: if you still have an invite, Liz, i’d love to take Quora for a spin. looking forward to throwing a few questions your way :)

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  4. Quora sounds like Google Search marries Wikipedia and the tweeters attend the wedding and sign the guestbook! I would love an invite.

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  5. Mark Weatherill Wednesday, January 6, 2010

    There seems to be very little that differentiates this from StackOverflow (programming Q&A with wiki-editable questions/answer + voting + reputation) and the StackExchange-engine which allows you to create similar sites for other niche interest areas. There are already numerous StackExchange powered sites for topics such as business travel, parenting and startups. As noted by Jeff Atwood of StackOverflow, the challenge for this type of site isn’t getting answers but getting a community of users that ask interesting questions in the first place.

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  6. I have been following a similar company for awhile (eDoorways) and they are generating a lot of buzz due to the official launch of their beta 1.0. However they seem to have a more clear goal about where they are headed in the monetization and true “real time” functionality. I will be interested in seeing how Quora gets used… Many doubted the effects of twitter, fb & linkedin as well.

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  7. Kind of interesting that Quora is being built to be both niche-y and mainstream. Curious if it will be more about discussion/opinion type of Q&A as opposed to a more factual/encyclopedic type of Q&A.

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  8. Liz,

    Thanks for the post. It seems like Q&A is fast becoming one of the primary means of communication on the web. Or perhaps it always has been via forums and at last people are making that content more discoverable and easier to navigate through some sorely needed structure.

    Personally, I think the value of destination Q&A sites that try and attract everyone to answer questions is somewhat, shall we say, questionable. One of the most valuable things about Q&A is a the human “voice” and when that voice is coming from a real community it makes all the difference.

    That is why stackexchange or yousaidit.com are good. They provide niche Q&A to specific communities. YouSaidIt also allows for “featured experts” in the community so that people can be invited as guests or on an ongoing basis – sort of like a call-in talk show online (experts get notified and can answer questions from where they are when they want). You can see this in action on The Stranger in Seattle (htttp://questionland.thestranger.com). You’d never know it was a YouSaidIt site because it uses an OpenTemplate model to allow complete customization/integration with a site.

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    1. @Charles and Helen – I think you are both right, and those are things Quora doesn’t have a great answer on yet, because it has yet to scale up to be a destination site. If teenagers join in droves to ask for romantic advice, as on Yahoo Answers, that is what the site may become.

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      1. Liz,
        Thanks so much. I signed up and it looks like they are doing a nice job so far. You are right about the potential for teenage romance, and that’s why I think the destination site approach can rapidly implode on itself.

        Regardless, I think the fact that Q&A sites are at last structuring the valuable data that used to be lost in forums will be a huge benefit to us all. We have not even begun to see the explosion of Q&A, given that even Yahoo’s 1B answers is a mere speck in comparison to the lost data in forums and usenet threads.

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  9. [...] Former Facebook CTO Launches Quora, Competes with Yahoo Answers, Aardvark, Hunch See All Articles » Looks Like Twitter Paid Mixer Labs $5.17M in Stock [...]

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  10. It will be interesting to see how Quora stacks up against TheyAnswer too. Both new startups in the social Q&A space. TheyAnswer has a slight head start though.

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