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low, thanks to the advent of cloud computing (Quora runs almost entirely on Amazon Web Services). And “we are a lot further along in the development of the Internet,” he says. “So there are investors now who have seen the pattern enough times: that if you get a lot of people using a product, there is almost always a good way to monetize.”
When the time is right to start charging for something, there are three obvious things to try, D’Angelo says. The first is selling ads. “We know for sure that advertising will work, because it works for so many similar products.”
Another option is creating some kind of premium version of the question-and-answer service and charging users for access. Closely related to that: the option to pay an expert, through Quora, to answer your specific question. Each option comes with its own hazards—if you start paying certain people to answer questions, for example, it might discourage others from posting answers for free. The point is, there’s still time to experiment. “We are just going to try things out, and I think there is a lot of potential,” D’Angelo says.
6. Quora is not a technology platform.
Some people are so active on Quora that their body of answers and comments comprises a big part of their online identity, right along side their tweetstream on Twitter, their timeline on Facebook, or their profile on LinkedIn. You might think, then, that Quora’s ambitions would include “platformization,” the extension of the Quora ecosystem across other sites, apps, and services. Yet you don’t see little red buttons all around the Web that say “Log in using Quora Connect” or “Share this on Quora.” And that’s another deliberate omission.
“It’s a lot of work to run a platform, and we have limited resources,” D’Angelo says. (He should know: he was at Facebook when the company was building its own platform.) “You have to make these commitments to developers, and then you have to support them for a long time, and it makes it hard to change things, and you can hurt your reputation if you don’t do a good job of it.” (Can anyone say Twitter?)
But the absence of a Quora platform hasn’t kept Quora’s content from leaking out to the wider Web. In fact, the company is liberal about sharing. “One thing that was conscious was Adam’s decision to let other outlets republish Quora content with minimal restrictions,” Bodnick says. “Anybody can republish content on Quora as long as you give attribution back to the page and as long as the writer has not tagged the page ‘Not for Reproduction.’” That kind of sharing is only good for Quora, in the end, since the links make for good branding and drive some organic traffic back to the site.
7. Quora isn’t just for the Web.
Quora is all about text—not just reading answers, but writing them and searching for them. The latter two activities have never been easy on mobile devices, which meant until recently that people who accessed Quora on their smartphones weren’t getting the same experience as people visiting via their desktop browsers.
The company has been working to fix that. This year Quora brought full text search to its mobile apps (before, you could only search for questions, topics, or people). It’s also added a rich text editor, so mobile question-answerers can use bold, italics, bullets, and other formatting to their hearts’ content.
“It used to be that mobile devices were great for reading, but essentially second-class citizens when it came to writing,” Bodnick says. “You could only write in plain text. But now we are letting people write with the same tools they have on the desktop, which is great, since about a third of our traffic is from mobile now, and in a few years, clearly, more than half of everyone’s traffic is going to be mobile.”
Quora rebuilt its iPhone app for iOS 7 and published it on the same day Apple released the new operating system last month. A big feature is an ever-present “+” button that lets users instantly submit a question or post to their Quora blog. The company says it’s also working on a native version of the app for the iPad and the iPad mini; they’ll be ready by the end of the year. (There’s already a Quora app for Android phones and tablets.)
Mobile users spend twice as much time on Quora as desktop-only users, so the company has every reason to make the service work better on smartphones. The iOS 7 app is so nice that I’m almost afraid to use it—I’m worried I’ll wind up going down the rabbit hole and miss all my work deadlines.
And that, in the end, is the only reason I don’t use Quora more than I do. Each answer is infused with the personality of its author, so the content never gets old, the way Wikipedia’s dusty-dry prose rapidly does. That makes surfing Quora’s vast knowledge base completely addictive—a problem that D’Angelo says he’s aware of. “You might use it more if each time you used it there was some kind of stopping point; if it wasn’t just this never-ending thing,” he says. “It’s something that we will look into. But I don’t know how much control we have over it.”
Helping users be less addicted: it’s the very definition of a good problem to have. Almost as good as being asked, over and over, to explain what Quora really is. If people weren’t intrigued, they wouldn’t be asking.
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