Quora, the hot question-and-answer startup founded by two former Facebook employees, has announced that it is opening its database up to be indexed by search engines today. This move to open up is something that Facebook — which recently launched a very similar service called Facebook Questions — has said it doesn’t plan to do, apparently preferring to maintain exclusive control over the information provided by users. As with many other things, the giant social network’s interest seems to lie in protecting its walled-garden approach to the data it harvests.
Fittingly enough, the news about Quora came in the form of an answer to a question on the service about when the company would open up its content to search engines like Google (hat tip to All Facebook for noticing). Co-founder Adam D’Angelo, former chief technology officer of Facebook, responded by saying this would happen on Aug. 6, adding that:
We are opening up because we are trying to make high-quality knowledge available to as many people as possible. We are committed to giving answerers control over their answers, and so you will have the ability to edit or remove your answers if you’re concerned about what shows up next to your name.
D’Angelo also noted that the service has a “search engine privacy” setting that allows users to control whether questions and answers they submit are shown to search engines. However, the Quora co-founder suggests that users don’t hide their questions from search engines, since “Quora answers add to your reputation,” and therefore, they might want to “maximize the number of people who see them.” The decision 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 Craig Newmark, angel investor Keith Rabois and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, but in part, this kind of high-quality content has come because the service isn’t widely used (it was in private beta until earlier this year).
Opening up to search engines will be a double-edged sword in that sense: it will generate more interest and traffic, but could also pollute the content with generic contributions, something many observers believe has affected the usability of similar services such as Yahoo Answers. Hunch, another startup that began as a Q&A service but recently relaunched as a recommendation service, deliberately restricted the access that non-registered users could get to its content for similar reasons.
Facebook, meanwhile, has said that it has no plans to offer its Facebook Questions data up to Google and others. Although the company may decide to do so in the future once it has a large enough supply of quality content — in much the same way Quora has — there is also a much larger incentive for Facebook to keep that information to itself. Since the giant social network likely wants to use the data from Questions for its own purposes, including enhancing its own internal search engine, providing information to Google could be counter-productive.
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