Quora, the slickly simple Q&A web site founded in April 2009 by ex-Facebookers Charlie Cheever and Adam D’Angelo. It is free to sign up, and anyone can ask or answer a question. You can follow people, topics or questions, and you get email alerts prodding you to jump back into answer threads. Almost anything on the site can be edited by anyone, unlike the tighter editing controls on Wikipedia. Topics are created by users and continually revised and updated so that similar topics are unified to avoid the kind of answer bloat that befell Yahoo Answers and Answers.com. One important feature is the banishment of anonymous kooks. Quora integrates deeply with Facebook and Twitter so you can tell who everyone is and assess their stature as an answerer. Quora’s founders understood that reputation and transparency are crucial variables in crowd-sourcing projects. Answers can be voted up or down to appear higher in the results. Answers can also generate their own comments, or get flagged as stupid or irrelevant. You can edit your own answers but people can check out the prior versions before the changes.
Quora has some of that cool-kids cachet right now because it’s new and many of the people answering questions are high-profile, knowledgeable people, such as Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings, who answered this question about employee compensation from a journalist and the question ”How much does Netflix spend on postage each year?” Newly minted venture capitalist Marc Andreessen recently answered a question about his own VC firm.
One can immediately get Quora’s value to journalists. If you want to bait the hook, you’re likely to catch a decent fish. If you want to crowdsource an angle, you can ask the question there. We adapted a discussion on Quora into one of our more higher-trafficked stories in October: Eleven Movies Entrepreneurs Should Watch, which in turn got picked up on the Yahoo home page. This is welcomed by the Quora people, though we’re going to make the attribution more overt next time. Several editors, including me, have asked Quora about a deeper partnership, integrating its functionality on news sites or cross-posting Q&A. They’re not ready for those kinds of deals. They do make topics available as RSS feeds.
How Quora is going to make a profit let alone earn its backers a decent return on a reported private valuation of $80 million is anyone’s guess. Facebook has a rival project going called Answers and Yahoo! Answers has been around since December 2005. Revenue is not part of the discussion right now, if it even should be. Its burn rate is minimal. One of its main backers (also anex-Facebooker) Matt Cohler at Benchmark Capital told me yesterday that “we’re not even 1% of the way into what we want to do. We’re not even one-tenth of 1% into it.” The goal of its founders is to put all of what people know on the Internet in a form people can access and use and understand. While this sounds like Google’s mission statement–”to organize the world’s information and make it accessible and useful”–Quora is aiming more at the life experiences, tacit knowledge and accumulated wisdom inside our collective heads, 90% of which is probably not on the Internet.