Photo: Charlie Cheever
Quora is a Q&A startup founded by early Facebook employees Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever.It is obscenely hyped right now.
Tech titans like Marc Andreessen and Steve Case hang out answering and asking questions on the site.
Google’s head of design went gaga over the site in December.
More recently, we heard gossip that Quora turned down a $1 billion offer.
Sources tell us investors who want in on Quora’s next round better be ready to pay up at a valuation better than $300 million.
What’s strange about all this hype is that there are already plenty of very popular Q&A sites on the Internet – and they aren’t worth very much. Yahoo Answers is a pile of junk, and even with its 100 million global uniques, Answers.com just sold for a mere $127 million.
People are excited about popular Q&A startups Formspring.me and StackOverflow, but it’s not like this.
We decided to go to the source and find out.
In a Q&A with Quora cofounder Charlie Cheever, we discussed how Quora will scale without turning into junk, what Quora will look like in five years, and how the site got so many fancy SIlicon Valley types on board.
For fun, we conducted the interview on Quora. (Click here to see what that looked like, or just read on.)
Business Insider: What will Quora look like in five years?
Cheever: It’s hard to see too far into the future because things are changing so quickly. But here are some of the things I would like it be like.
- For information that isn’t new, there’s a very good answer in place for almost every question, so you can just look things up on Quora instead of posting new questions as much. For news and as things change, there will always need to be new questions and answers and updates to old ones.
- In five years, I hope there will be great coverage on the site of almost every topic that anyone is interested in. Right now, there is great coverage of some areas, and many more are growing like life in the military, parenting, farming, etc. I think this will keep happening. One thing that’s really exciting is when people who are primary sources give definitive answers on the site.
I hope there are a lot of things that don’t change. The spirit of sharing knowledge and making pages good resources is really healthy right now; people are generally very civil on Quora; and there are lots of great users and questions and answers right now.
BI: How has the vision for Quora changed in the last year? There’s no way you could have predicted this much enthusiasm for the product.
Cheever: The short answer to this is: not too much.
One of the most interesting things that we learned was that reading other people’s questions and answers is actually really interesting. We didn’t anticipate that there would be so many lurkers on the site — people who log in every day and read, vote on, and share questions and answers on the site but don’t add their own Qs or As.
Because of this, we shifted to thinking of the home page feed as a consumption experience rather than just a list of questions that you might want to answer if you have an answer (which is how it was originally conceived). Overall, we’re really happy about this because people who just come to the site to read provide an audience for the people who want to write really good questions and answers.
BI: How does Quora scale while keeping its quality high? Yahoo Answers and Answers.com are very popular, but they are stuffed with bad content, so their ad inventory is junk. How Does Quora avoid that fate?
Cheever: We think that it will be a lot of little things rather than one big thing. Some of the most important of these are:
- Keeping the site organised so that people who want to make Quora a good resource can focus on the topics they are interested in; we think this partitioning can keep different parts of Quora feeling small even as the knowledge base as a whole grows bigger and bigger.
- Continually working on the product to make it better support the people who want to write good answers and make good edits that improve the content on the site. One example of something we’ve been experimenting with recently is using a PageRank-like algorithm to rank answers on question pages.
BI: How was Quora seeded with so many big name Valley types? I heard Quora told all interested VCs that they had to join the site and start answering questions before getting a meeting.
Cheever: I’m not exactly sure how or why lots of “big name Valley types” started using the site early on, but we did think it was really cool to learn from what they had to share. I do think there is a general culture in Silicon Valley of wanting to try out new things, which probably helped everything get started.
We didn’t have any rules about only meeting with VCs that use the site. We mostly tried to keep our heads down and work on the product for the most part. We prefer to work with people who use, understand, and love what we’re trying to do.