10 Comments

Summary:

What’s going on at Quora, seven months since announcing itself and a month after opening to the public? We visited co-founder Charlie Cheever at the company’s Palo Alto office to hear more about how the company is handling the dueling forces of growth and quality.

Since launching Quora at the beginning of this year as a sort of thinking person’s Yahoo Answers, former Facebook employees Charlie Cheever and Adam D’Angelo have increased their staff to 11, raised $11 million, opened up to the public, and grown a vibrant community of questioners and answerers – even if they do still converse mainly about the San Francisco Bay Area and tech entrepreneurship. It’s become a site I visit most every day. So I recently went down to Palo Alto to meet up with Cheever for the first time since January.

So what is Quora up to? The top items on the company’s list, said Cheever, are growth and maintaining a high bar for quality content – and the two are often at odds.

The thing that most stood out from our conversation is that Quora thinks of its role as one of governance. They want to design tools that encourage people to contribute knowledge that is informative and current. The company’s plans are less about features, and more about figuring out ways to get new users to make good contributions, and giving power users incentives to share more. In a way, it’s sort of like trying to birth an online version Plato’s ideal society, with participants fulfilling designated roles in the interest of the common good.

That means that while Quora’s team thinks about things like introducing user rankings as a way to organize information, it hesitates on implementation because that might discourage new expert contributors with no previous standing on the site from joining the conversation, said Cheever. Instead, Quora has recently been working on things like giving user admins tools to distinguish quality contributions, and building topic hierarchies. Another new feature recognizes how long it has been since a user visited the site, and formats his personalized news feed accordingly.

That’s a different approach from the typical user-generated site – say, Facebook – which is designed to foster maximum participation by users, without placing any sort of value judgment on what they do.

“Our No. 1 thing is knowledge that people trust,” said Cheever. “Being a resource trumps making people feel good about themselves.”

Like Formspring, another (very different) Q&A company I visited last week, Quora thinks of the contributions it inspires as a sort of “inverse blogging.” Participants aren’t writing into the void, with no idea if anyone wants to hear their opinion of the best hummus or the best startup lawyer. If someone asks a question, it’s because she wants to hear an answer. And there’s less pressure, said Cheever, to make something perfect. There’s not an expectation that something has to be polished and professional-grade, or that people have to have the skills to build their own website to share their knowledge with the masses.

Though the hope is that everybody’s an expert on something, Quora also wants to offer satisfying ways for non-experts to participate. Non-experts can do research and write concise summaries, they can recruit experts and elicit their expertise, or maybe they could just be good at finding thumbnail pictures for topics (which the site recently added), said Cheever.

Another big focus has been catering to power users. As tech insiders have been roused to share their knowledge – especially about their own products or those of their competitors – Quora answers have often become topics for news stories. (Here are some from GigaOM.) D’Angelo has even done this as himself, confirming rumors of Google’s unannounced major upcoming social product in a post that amounted to irresistible linkbait. But some users would rather keep their answers within the community, so a few months ago the company introduced a “not for reproduction” option that will ostensibly stop these posts from being distributed outside the site (I’m not sure there’s a legal precedent for disallowing fair use like this). Quora is also, by design, not currently indexed by search engines, though it plans to allow them in the future.

What about scaling to knowledge areas outside its core topics of Silicon Valley and technology (if those two things are even separable)? Cultivating a community of quality contributors is one thing, but Quora’s big test is its breadth. Some competitors, like the technically focused Stack Overflow, are instead choosing the strategy of launching multiple sites to address different topics. Cheever admitted that diversification on Quora is happening slowly, but said general knowledge about things like local information in cities, music, movies and sports, as well as more specialized areas like physics, is coming along.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Social Advertising Models Go Back to the Future

You’re subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

By Liz Gannes

You're subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

Related stories

  1. Why do we absolutely need to sign up to Quora using either our Facebook or Twitter accounts? I understand it’s to make things easier but what if a person doesn’t use either? What if I don’t want Quora to know my friends? Isn’t there another way to sign up? The normal way…

    1. I guess the easiest thing to do would be make up a new Twitter account and use that? Personally, I tend to appreciate the stronger connection to real-world identity.

  2. Quickthink » Blog Archive » Thinking about Quora Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    [...] is very cool – a startup dedicated to making the web smarter. Here is a link to the Giga article which I found to be mildly provocative. Inverse blogging? [...]

  3. Facebook Goes (Very) Public With Questions Product Wednesday, July 28, 2010

    [...] How Quora Is Trying to Build an Ideal Society See All Articles » Facebook Goes (Very) Public With Questions Product [...]

  4. Quora Opens Up to Search Engines, Facebook Stays Closed Friday, August 6, 2010

    [...] to open up to general search is a tricky one for a service such as Quora. The startup has gained a reputation for high-quality questions and answers from a wide range of high-profile technology industry participants, including Craigslist founder [...]

  5. Questions and Answers | Joerg Land Friday, August 13, 2010

    [...] Here is an intersting post about Quora, a larger site from the US. This entry was posted in entrepreneurship, internet business and tagged facebook, Q&A. Bookmark the permalink. ← habits x time x location = recommendation [...]

  6. What are some interesting blog posts about Quora? – Quora Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    [...] Paquet, Reality Theorist, http://openresearch… How Quora Is Trying to Build an Ideal Societyhttp://gigaom.com/2010/07/26/how…The Power Of Quora & Why Benchmark Was Right To Pay Uphttp://www.aonetwork.com/AOStory…Insert [...]

  7. Unvarnished Has More Money and a New Name: Tech News « Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    [...] Honestly founder says he chose to grow the network slowly, as other reputation-based sites such as Quora have, because “we wanted to ensure that we built the community properly, to set the mores and [...]

  8. What are the best blog articles about Quora? – Quora Thursday, January 6, 2011

    [...] this one is about the pros and cons Quora is facing. Compares Quora to GoogleBuzzhttp://gigaom.com/2010/07/26/how… and this one is interesting because it explains what Quora is meant to be.Insert a dynamic date [...]

  9. Can Quora Survive Its Growing Popularity?: Tech News and Analysis « Thursday, January 6, 2011

    [...] and fellow Facebooker Charlie Cheever — made it clear it wanted to remain small in order to cultivate a community that would be different from, and better than, other web services by keeping out trolls and [...]

Comments have been disabled for this post