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A Q&A With the Q&A Boss -- Quora's Adam D'Angelo Takes Our Questions

Most users just read.


The last time someone asked, “How well is Quora doing?” on Quora, only one person answered — and the year was 2010. In fact, Quora, a question-and-answer website, hadn’t even launched publicly yet.

We figured we’d have better luck asking the source — Quora CEO and co-founder Adam D’Angelo.

D’Angelo, one of Facebook’s earliest employees and former chief technology officer, has been leading Quora since launch, but things have picked up over the past 12 months. The company raised $80 million in an April funding round led by Tiger Global Management, and claims a near-billion dollar valuation. Its workforce grew 50 percent over the past year to more than 90 employees, and while Quora doesn’t break out user figures, D’Angelo says that users are posting three times as many answers on Quora now than they did at the beginning of the year.

Put another way: If Quora keeps the same pace, there will be more answers posted in the next 12 months than the previous four-and-a-half years combined.

On Thursday, the company unveiled its first iPad app. The majority of users come to Quora to read and explore, says D’Angelo, so a native app built for a larger screen was a necessary project for the company.

So, four years later, it’s safe to ask: “How well is Quora doing?” Re/code sat down for a Q&A with the man who’s trying to turn Q&A into a business.

Re/code: You’ve talked about an increase in engagement, but you’ve never shared user figures or outlined the total number of questions and answers on the platform. Why not?

Adam D’Angelo: We want to focus on quality, because if you look at all the Web services that did something like Quora before we came along, there’s always this tradeoff to be made between growing super fast and [growing] your metrics, and just keeping the quality really high. We don’t want to have numbers that pressure us to trade off against quality.

How is Quora changing as it grows?

The more questions and answers we get, the more useful Quora is. Your experience today — especially if you want to ask questions about a more narrow [subject] — is actually a lot better than it was a few years ago because there [are] just a lot more questions to answer. It’s not just that we’re compounding our growth because more people find out about Quora, but it’s also getting better for each individual user as the scale gets bigger.

Has there been anything that really surprised you about how people use Quora? Has there been an interesting use case you weren’t expecting?

When we first started, we thought that Quora was going to be a place where people come when they have a question and where they come when they want to write answers. It turned out that the most popular thing among the users was not asking questions or writing answers, but just reading answers that were already there.

I think a lot of what the iPad app is going to be used for is just reading the best content on Quora. It really helps the whole system run because people who are writing answers can get this very wide distribution to a large audience of readers. So that’s motivating for people to write more answers when they know they’re going to have a bigger audience.

Does the bulk of your content come from a small, core group of users?

It’s less skewed than other sites. Like, Wikipedia is kind of extreme, where a very, very small group of people contribute pretty much everything.

Most people [on Quora] are not contributing. It’s a minority of people who contribute, but it’s more than people expect.

You aren’t currently bringing in revenue. When are you going to start surfacing ads?

I think sometime next year we will start on that.

Are you worried that might turn users away?

We’ve been very open with people from the beginning. This is a company. It needs to be sustainable. We want Quora to last forever and in order to last forever its going to need to have revenue. One of the best things about ads is that you don’t need to exclude anyone. So Netflix can make a lot of money off subscriptions, but in the process, most people in the world can’t use Netflix because they can’t afford to pay for it. So we think ads are pretty well aligned with our mission.

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