By Gerry Shih
SAN FRANCISCO Jan 23 Under pressure to quicken
its growth, the once-red hot question-and-answer startup
Quora.com said it will launch a blogging platform to encourage
more input from its users, who share everything from intensely
personal experiences to deep technical knowledge on the site.
Touted just two years ago as the next Wikipedia, or perhaps
even the next Google, Quora has not overtaken its more modest
rivals, much less joined the pantheon of Web giants.
Quora now has roughly 2 million monthly visitors who go to
post and answer questions about practically anything, compared
to Yahoo! Answers' 69 million and Answers.com's 49 million,
according to ComScore statistics.
By cultivating a blog network, the site could be laying the
groundwork to pivot into a more traditional ad-supported media
Marc Bodnick, a former investment partner at Elevation
Partners who is now Quora's senior business executive, said the
new format should appeal to writers who do not already blog, or
who do not maintain a heavily trafficked personal site. Quora
also said it would release a new smartphone app with advanced
text editing tools so its contributors can write on the go.
"Building a blog and marketing it is really hard work and
requires a lot of time," Bodnick said. "On Quora, if you come on
and write one good thing it could explode. No matter who you
are, we can provide you the audience."
Quora will retain its well-known Q & A format, but the new
set of publishing tools is the first significant change to the
feel of the site, which has kept its minimalistic layout largely
unchanged since its launch in 2009.
The startup was the darling of Silicon Valley when it was
founded by two early Facebook Inc employees, Adam
D'Angelo and Charles Cheever, who vowed to revolutionize how
human knowledge is shared by tapping the power of the Internet
Despite being a free service, Quora raised $50 million -
including $20 million put forward by D'Angelo himself and
millions more from former Facebook director Peter Thiel - in the
heady months leading up to Facebook's initial public offering in
2012 that reportedly valued the company at a hefty $400 million.
But questions have mounted over when or how Quora will
finally begin to make money, whether through selling advertising
or subscriptions. In September, rumors about tensions within the
company bubbled up when Cheever announced he would step back
from day-to-day operations.
Bodnick said the company recognized the need for revenue but
dismissed the notion that the 50-person, Mountain View,
California-based startup was under any pressure.
"We know we're going to need to make money and we do have
some intriguing ideas around that," Bodnick said. He added that
the ideas were "advertising-oriented" but did not elaborate.
"We're really just getting bigger right now and not focused
on monetizing," he said. "We're fine. Our investors are super
supportive of the approach we're taking."
Although it has been widely praised for the quality of its
user contributions - former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers has
volunteered thoughts on the Japanese economic malaise, for
instance - there is a sense that part of what has hampered
Quora's geeky reputation has hampered its mainstream adoption.
"We have a marketing challenge because our content is
actually pretty diverse," Bodnick said.
The company thinks there is no reason why it cannot be a
thoughtful forum for discussing both the subtler points of
software programming and, say, the comparative qualities of NBA
big men or pop divas.
Compared to the site's early days, when it attracted mostly
Silicon Valley digerati who discussed the Valley's work culture
or startup financing, less than 10 percent of the site's answers
today are written by users from California, Bodnick said, adding
that film and food are also some of the most popular among the
site's 300,000 discussion topics.
To showcase its variety, Quora recently published a
hardcover collection of its best writing from the past two
years. The volume included candid responses to questions ranging
from "How do actors' spouses feel about love scenes in film and
TV?" to "What does the first day of 5+ year prison sentence feel
like?" to "If I want to look smart, what do I need to know about
the Higgs Boson discovery?"
Bodnick argued that Quora should be enticing to would-be
bloggers because it could direct a large number of readers to a
single, well-written post almost instantly.
"After two years, we can now deliver audiences at scale,"