68) Quora – innovation from recombination

危 wēi danger

Adam D’Angelo quit his position as CTO of Facebook to create Quora, an online knowledge market that aggregates questions and answers on various topics and allows users to collaborate on them.  He explained at the time: “Q & A is one of those areas on the internet where there are a lot of sites, but no one had come along and built something that was really good yet.” He’s right that Q&A has been around for a long time, with sites such Answers.com and Yahoo! Answers both receiving over 40 million unique visitors a month.  In addition there are more specific solutions such as Stack Overflow (for professional and amateur programmers) which has 250,000 users. Surely Quora would struggle to differentiate?

机 jī opportunity

On the contrary, Quora has had continued strong growth: since receiving funding from Benchmark Capital last year (valuing the start-up at a rumored $86 million) it has grown to nearly 500k users. This is all the more interesting because none of its components are revolutionary, instead the Quora team seems to have done an excellent job of spotting and tapping into emergent online behaviours and trends. Robert Scoble wrote this great post on why he thinks Quora is the future of blogging, in it he references some of the things that Quora learned from other sites, for example:

  1. Quora learned from Twitter – if you ask your social network a question they’ll answer it.  Twitter also taught us that alerts when new people follow you or answer questions you follow are a great way to pull users back to the site
  2. It learned from Digg – a voting mechanism (in which you can vote an answer up or down) enables you to have the best quality answers rise to the top
  3. It learned from Facebook – if you build a news feed that pushes new items to the user their average time on site and page views increase
  4. It learned from the best apps – we all want a sense of community instantly so it imports yours from Twitter
  5. It learned from RSS readers – curation is a valuable service so it allows users to follow topics in addition to people
  6. It learned from blogs about how to do great SEO – it’s amazing how often Quora shows up at the top of Google searches
  7. It learned from instant messaging clients – it shows who is answering a question while they are answering it
  8. It learned from Wikipedia – people are willing to suggest edits and the whole process can be predominantly user-administered

Although none of these features are necessarily groundbreaking the combination is completely novel. Often innovations are just a recombination of existing features to create a new offer – in this case the Quora founders call their offer “reverse-blogging”. In other words, it’s a content system that starts with an interested audience and then fills in the content to serve that audience. The question is whether Quora can maintain the quality of answer as it grows beyond its Silicon Valley early adopters – when the numbers of questions outstrip the capacity of the informed to answer them.  But that’s a whole other blog post.

How About…

  • When launching a new venture – look for emergent trends in adjacent industries?
  • What features can you recombine to create a completely new offer?