Former Facebook CTO Launches Quora, Competes with Yahoo Answers, Aardvark, Hunch

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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