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Summary:

Gravity, a site meant to foster online conversations between people with common interests, became available to the public today. The company, founded by a trio of former MySpace executives and funded by Redpoint Ventures and August Capital, has built a, easy-on-the-eyes, snappy forum platform.

Gravity, a site aimed at fostering online conversations among people with common interests, became available to the public today. The company, founded by a trio of former MySpace executives and funded by Redpoint Ventures and August Capital, has built an easy-on-the-eyes, snappy forum platform. It promised in an interview in December with TechCrunch that the back end is a dynamic “interest graph” with deep analytics about people’s participation. Om, for one, thinks the company is just hoping to latch onto general tech industry excitement about big data. As for me, I’ve been checking out the site over the last couple weeks, so I can comment a bit about what’s available to users.

First of all, Gravity is organized around the gimmick of “worlds” (broad topics) that you can “orbit” (follow), while being hosted by a cartoon dinosaur named Amir. There’s some organization into categories but most everything is a chronological thread. You can navigate using a live-updated thread of things you’ve subscribed to, or use an index or search to find new topics. Users, who don’t have to use their real names, are rewarded for participation with badges.

So far, I haven’t found many deep conversations or enough breadth of topics to fit the topics for which I’ve searched. Many threads consist of people posting personal stories or pictures; one entertaining one was “awkward celebrity encounters.” The real-time alerts about conversations and people you’re following seem to be a big booster of discussion. I posted in a thread about the Vietnamese noodle soup pho, and got three replies within a few minutes. Nothing profound, but at least people appreciated my contribution.

Gravity for me is an interesting contrast to Quora, the Q&A site from former Facebook employees, which is also set up around common interests and discussion threads. That site, in keeping with its pedigree, requires real-name participation (though it allows anonymity on a per-contribution basis) and seeks a high level of discourse, with users hastily correcting each other for contributions that aren’t seen as productive. Quora’s founders say their ultimate aim is to create “canonical consensus” on a wide variety of topics.

It’s all very serious and schoolmarmish, but I really like it, because users hold themselves to a high standard of participation. So far, I prefer Quora to Gravity, mostly because the small private-beta community consists of people with good knowledge of topics I’m really interested in — like tech startups — who put time and thought into crafting contributions. For many of them, it’s a new sort of blogging platform. The reason I go back to Quora almost every day is because the conversations are great. I’m not sure that’s what the company intended when it set out to build a Q&A platform, but it’s a great by-product.

Gravity, on the other hand, could be great, but only if it grows to the point that it features well-threaded, organized and searchable conversations on an extremely wide variety of topics. And it strikes me that even more useful would be the ability to mine the web’s existing treasure troves of forums, communities and groups — all of which have terrible interfaces but contain tons of great knowledge. I know it might be more appealing and manageable to create a new “interest graph” platform from scratch, but people have been interested in stuff online for a long time.

By Liz Gannes

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  5. What intrigues me is that these are in some ways the first purely discussion-orientated startups since the nineties, and really, the last truly successful high-minded online space was The WELL.

    In the meantime, we’ve had plenty of discussion-orientated software: phpBB, Community Server, etc etc. It’s one of the few consumer segments that’s truly distributed. Will people really go back to central, cross-purpose discussion sites?

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    1. That’s good perspective, Ben. I think the skepticism is well-deserved but at the same time all those silos are holding back greater access to those discussions. You’d think Google, for instance, would have done something more with Deja News.

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  6. …and the reason why people should move their conversations from facebook (personal), linkedin (business) or one of the other MILLIONS of already solid and well-populated sites like slashdot, etc to go start a talk at gravity and register yet another new account is…??? i’m lost. must be missing something.

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  8. I am in a tech start-up so the conversations on Quora feel very relevant to me as well. But how many people are in the tech start-ups, really? I showed Quora to my wife (who is not a techie) and she thought it was an absolute snoozefest. She thought Gravity seemed kind of fun.

    I think Gravity is better positioned to tackle the mass market. I don’t think I would feel comfortable talking about my favorite band or whether jen and brad are going to get back together on Quora, I would on Gravity. And outside the silicon valley bubble that is the kind of stuff most people talk about. You need only cast an eye over the supermarket checkout stand to confirm that this is true.

    Can either site get enough users? Not sure yet. But I see the sites going after very different audiences, and my guess is the gravity market is bigger.

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