The CEO of Quora and first chief technology officer of Facebook sits down with BuzzFeed News to talk about where Quora and the broader internet is headed in 2015.
In the past couple of years, how have you seen the way people communicate on the Internet change over time?
Adam D'Angelo: Things are getting more verticalized. In the past people used to set up their own website, and there were lots of different platforms. You could use lots of different software to make a website, every website looked different. Now, there's a lot more centralization, so instead of your homepage, you have your Facebook page, your Twitter account, and everyone uses the same service; they use Facebook and they use Twitter. Whereas in the past, everyone had a different homepage, and every homepage would be different.
So stuff's just getting centralized onto a smaller number of platforms. And then the platforms get really good with the scale they get to. Because one person can't really invest in good technology just for their one site, there's just one person, but when you have everything centralized, like Quora we can hire this team of 100 really amazing people to build Quora into a great product, because it's centralized. That's an important thing.
Another trend going on is, if you look at what's happening with messaging apps… it's almost like specialization happening. In different countries there are these different apps that get really popular, and they're kind of culturally tuned to the place.
Like WeChat and Line.
AD: Yeah, but even in Korea there's KakaoTalk, there's Telegram, that's another messenger. That gets customized for these different countries. If you look online, or on some of the messaging apps, they show a different set of stickers depending on what country you're in. They specialize it for you. Quora is very different from these apps, but… I think that no one has come along and really done stickers well for the Western market.
In 2007, I was at Facebook and we looked at some of the social networks in Asia, and they were full of games. There was this farm game that was integrated with the biggest social network. And people would spend money on these virtual gifts to give each other, and buy stuff for their farm. And it just seemed crazy — no way would people in the U.S. go for this kind of thing. They're just too serious. And then you open up Facebook platform and a year later, games are everywhere, FarmVille's there. I always hesitate before drawing these cultural conclusions that people are that different in other places. Culture really matters. I wouldn't be surprised if stickers are as big here as they are in Asia in five more years.
Can you articulate what the core problem Quora is trying to solve, on a technical and more general level, and how far along the company is?
AD: There's actually a lot of problems that all fit together. We're trying to keep quality high, that's very important for us. If you look at all these other efforts before Quora, to get knowledge onto the internet, a lot of them suffered from quality [issues]. That's a big problem. We need to build systems that can automatically figure out what's high quality and what's not, and encourage users to contribute high-quality content. There's a lot of technical challenges in that.
We're basically building this map of who the experts are in every given topic of knowledge. For any area of knowledge, we want to know who the people who know the most about that are, and should be answering questions, so when we have questions we can show them to the right people. So it's this technical challenge around building out this map of areas of knowledge, and this database of who the experts are and automatically updating that over time.