Quora: I’ll Show You the Money

A friend of mine asked me on Twitter what I thought “the future of Quora was”. It’s a daunting question I needed time to ruminate on. ‘What is the future of content?’ seems to be the umbrella question. Or ‘what’s the future for business models based on advertising revenue?’. Or maybe, “What’s the future of advertising?” I’m going to tackle instead in pieces.

What’s the Future for Quora’s Visitors?

It’s been two months since that question was asked. Well I had some extra โ€œenergyโ€ tonight. Let’s start with statistics, because I’ve noticed my readership likes them as much as I do. First a look at how Quora is faring since my Statistical Follow Ups on Quora and Digg:

Quora Traffic January to March 2011 via Alexa

I like Alexa for a first look because its simple. Lesson, in digital, simple is beautiful. This graph is total visits, where the graphs in the Statistical Post were unique visitors and traffic as a percent of total internet traffic. The spike the second week of January corresponding with Quora hitting Twitter, (See: Snowball effect). If visitors are going down as seen in the Statistical post, but traffic is showing a steady, healthy 30% increase, it’s probably because the people who have found value there are becoming more active users.

What Does Quora Mean to Brands?

With social media we’ve crossed into a gray zone in advertising, a veritable no-man’s land brands are attempting to navigate. It’s filled with “friendly-fire” from search engines, consumers, content providers and any wayward netizen who might potentially classify your message as SPAM. This means creating revenue on websites from brands has to be done extremely tastefully or openly as in traditional banner advertising.

Twitter attempted to have “promoted tweets” to finally find a revenue model. Foursquare uses branded “prizes” in the form of sponsored badges. Zynga has branded farms or “virtual products”. SCVNGR’s mobile gaming has branded challenges. The startups Colorwarfare and GetGlue are looking to follow this model with sponsored prizes and stickers, respectively. Youtube makes you watch commercials. Facebook uses trusty old banner ads, Google sells ranking (ew), Digg-Ads, Bing-Ads, Mashable-Ads, …see a pattern?

If Quora’s not going with a brand/sponsorship/ad revenue model, things get tricky. The community I’m working on uses the data for market research studies. Just about every other web app from Hootsuite, Hubspot, Spotify, Hulu, TurboTax, offer regular memberships and “Pro”. Many web startups are attempting this. How will Quora go this route?

As LinkedIn did, Quora will probably transition to sponsored pages, like buying a “farm”. Proof is Quora has made it clearly impossible to create a “page” = profile, under your company’s name, something LinkedIn was doing.

What’s in It For Me?

This is my mother’s favorite question. One Quora question deals with this: What’s my incentive to post answers on Quora? The summary answer:

1. Reputation
2. Intrinsic motivation: challenging, rewarding, bonding (with the community)

Reputation can mean personal branding, or the value of having yourself recognized as a key opinion leader (KOL). This is great if you’re in digital and trying to score some clients. It’s the same reason people blog. “Intrinsic motivation” is a gray answer, meaning the feeling you get from being thought important. To pull from How to Win Friends and Influence People, intrinsic motivation:

It is what Freud calls ‘the desire to be great.’ It is what Dewey calls the ‘desire to be important.’ William James said: ‘The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.’
“If some people are so hungry for a feeling of importance that they actually go insane to get it, imagine what miracle you and I can achieve by giving people honest appreciation this side of insanity.

Like Twitter, Quora and Wikipedia feed on our (ok, my) narcissism. Groundswell was all about recognizing this potential in people and harnessing like a dam to power business development.

What Are Quora’s Assets?

There is now question that Quora is in it to win it, although what “it” is will have to be determined. In March 2010 Quora tool $14 million from Benchmark Capital Partners at a valuation of around $87.5 million, which is before the tech bubble II nonsense blew up, so we can assume they had a business plan laid out. LinkedIn’s mission was originally to “provide expert insight and resources”, but has evolved into “helping professional accelerate their growth” or burn a profit either by selling themselves or their company. (Yes, I paraphrased.)

Quora’s “assets” right now:
1. Exposure – They have amazing SEO, an apt audience, and great content.
2. Knowledge – All those answers were pouring into their pages.

Technically, through the evolving internet intellectual property laws, the content you submit on sites is yours “naturally”. For Quora specifically, this answer was addressed nicely by the founder: Who Owns the Copyright on Content Contributed on Quora?

A better clarification come from my favorite Quora community wrangler, Ari. (I “question” him quite a bit.):
It’s the implicit quid-pro-quo for participating in the discourse here that you allow Quora to use your material to do good things, including, eventually, making money.

Meaning Quora can, in anyway it decides to innovate, sell the content which is dually licensed between you, the first writer, and the site. Imagine this: An e-book of answers, for retail, of which you own a page, which are your answers. Only Quora can sell the entire book.

Who Is Quora’s Competition?

Recently I’ve had a disturbing number of people contacting me about intelligence and the internet. Why disturbing? There is a long, deep, dark philosophical hole I try to avoid which goes into the realm of artificial intelligence, what it means to be human, the cosmos…and chatforums from BK (before Kari, I know sad.) Just to touch on a few:

IBM Watson – Which I worked on as an intern, and coincidently met their team on Twitter. This algorithm pulls from a database of information which the hardware is “fed” and thus functions offline.
LED Face – A database, (like Wikipedia?), of crowdsourced knowledge. It keeps a basepoint of “experts” so you can ask questions and get answers in real time if the question does not exist.
(Still trying to figure it out, assuming they’ll charge for this?)
Baby Rose -An artificial intelligence project where a program “learns” words from people asking her questions. (Not really working so far.)
Bloomfire – Create microcommunities focused on teaching and learning around a specific topic. Similar to Nings, but more standard and focused on learning. In Beta, charges for a Pro version.

Any other question and answering or information site I could find works off banner ads: Yahoo Answers anyone? Wikipedia and Wikileaks both use donations, and come from a GenX philosophy that which spouts “freedom of information” and “democritization through the web”.

Quora is a business though. It was built by business-minded people and will remain a business. Depending on how Quora ends up monetizing, their competition as a business will be other promotional outlets, from banner ads to billboards, and other information resources, from Britannica (pay-wall), to your favorite author on Amazon.

In the words of Porky the Pig:

PS: If someone can tell me what the new Gawker’s revenue model is I’d love to know.

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4 comments on “Quora: I’ll Show You the Money

  1. Great post Kari. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’d love if you could ask your mom if she would contribute in an ego-free environment. A place where “glory” is not what everybody is seeking. The incentive would be to tap into collective intelligence and acquire new cultural knowledge. Not the one in books or in Wikipedia, but the tacit knowledge, the know-how gathered through experience.

    Think Ledface as a friend that you call to ask something you want to know, or ask for an opinion about something. For example, you won’t call a friend of yours – a photographer – to ask him all the details about Henri Cartier Bresson’s life. You find that info on Wikipedia or other databases. But you may ask him how to create awesome backlit photography. The difference with Ledface is that the answer won’t come from John or Mary; the answer results from the interaction – co-creation – of many people responding to that question in real time. No names, no ego, just knowledge. ๐Ÿ™‚

    About Q&A sites and Ledfaceโ€ฆ ๐Ÿ™‚
    http://www.ledface.com/blog/2011/02/how-is-ledface-different-from-qa-sites/

    BTW, no we do not plan to charge for Ledface. Never. We have a solid business model and we definitely won’t go the freemium way.

    We are working 7×7 to launch private beta in June. Stay tuned. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Great analysis!

    Definitely a quality breakdown of the advertising space with respect to the social media domain. It has certainly given me some things to ponder.

    It seems like business has stumbled onto what was previously something altruistic that naturally appeals to people. Now, they are struggling to monetize. In other words, Twitter and Facebook users get tons of value from the products, yet the companies themselves have extracted so little. Of course, the ethereal promise of potential for that volume of user engagement is so high that everyone wants to keep trying to crack the monetization code.

    Maybe someone will find the golden ticket someday. I’ll sure keep looking.

  3. I sincerely hope you’re just grossly misinterpreting the results in that Compete.com “traffic” chart, rather than trying to deceive us.

    (first of all “Unique visitors” is not the same as “visits”).

    I would also be curious to know what constituted a “visit” and a “visitor” when this chart was produced. This is clearly not an overall global traffic comparison. It is perhaps focused on a certain type of traffic (which should be divulged here)

    It is preposterous to suggest that wikipedia only got 4278 visits in a five month period. Otherwise Jimmy Wales could have set Wikipedia up on a Acer netbook with a really large hard drive and a basic DSL plan and
    pocketed the $16+ million from 100+ thousand donors (who, if your interpretation of this chart is to be believed, apparently don’t even visit Wikipedia)

  4. Hi “Skeptical”,

    Thank you for pointing this out! I made an obvious mistake, which apparently no one has caught and I’m pulling the chart from the end of this post. (So no one else will be mislead.) I used “wikipedia.com” for the Compete comparison instead of “wikipedia.org”.

    There you go, Skeptical is the way to go. Next time, use a name though! As a policy I don’t approve anonymous comments.

    Thank you again!
    Kari

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