The concept is not new, with other sites like Ask.com and Yahoo! Answers, but Mr. D’Angelo says earlier attempts are decentralized or poorly executed. Just as there were search engines before Google and social networks before Facebook, Quora can do it better, he says.
While Quora is about connecting people to information, it uses key social elements to do so. People must sign up using their real names, so their identity is attached to the questions they ask and answer.
Networks begin to form as people find others who share interests. They can choose to follow particular topics, or particular people who demonstrate creativity in their questions or authority in their answers.
People use Quora to ask specific questions about current events, or cultural questions, such as: “How did orange juice become a standard breakfast drink in the West?” The most popular answer comes from an Indian-born computer engineer, rather than an official economist or anthropologist.
In this sense, Quora is democratic, a quality the former Facebookers say is important.
“If you don’t have a reputation, you can build one up by answering questions on Quora,” Mr. Cheever adds.
Some users – including Silicon Valley engineers and a Dallas-based chef – have found jobs through their activity on Quora, he says.
Quora is counting on such positive user experiences to attract new ones to the site, before worrying about how to make money. As of January, 2012, the site had 1.2 million unique visitors, according to ComScore, a digital analytics and marketing group, up from 147,000 the year before, when Quora launched.
“We’re still in the growth phase,” Mr. D’Angelo says.
The Asana team of about 20 stands in a circle, most in jeans and trainers, a few shuffling in their socks, discussing the latest updates to the work-collaboration tool they are building.
Unlike typical staff meetings elsewhere, this one is quick and painless. The report from team heads is over in a few sentences and the gathering concludes after 15 minutes with group applause, and a “Yay!” from Asana’s co-founder Justin Rosenstein.
Similar to yoga, he says mindfulness and balance are central to the company’s philosophy of work. Asana, which means “pose” in Sanskrit, also holds yoga classes for staff.
“[Yoga]is about finding comfort and ease in the face of stretching yourself to your limits, which is what work is about,” Mr. Rosenstein says.
He and Dustin Moskovitz, Asana’s other co-founder, expect the technology and design of their task-management system to create simplicity – and painless staff meetings – for clients. It aims to streamline workflow, allowing colleagues to manage projects, assign tasks, and track progress according to what is most important, instead of having to track chronological e-mail conversations.
Mr. Moskovitz recruited Mr. Rosenstein from Google to Facebook in 2007. Mr. Moskovitz had been at the social network since its conception in 2004, sharing a dorm room with Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard University.
“We want people to stop referring to their organization as dysfunctional,” says Mr. Moskovitz.
In 2008, Mr. Moskovitz and Mr. Rosenstein left Facebook. They launched Asana in 2009. “We have a very yin-yang relationship,” Mr. Moskovitz says. “I track the detailed things, making sure [things]get done. Justin is good at ideating and staying passionate.” The software is free for companies with 30 employees or fewer. It will soon offer a product for larger companies, charging a monthly fee. Asana is not profitable yet. The market is also competitive.
Though Asana puts tasks at the centre of its tool rather than people, the Web application takes several cues from Facebook, including a newsfeed-type activity feed, the ability to follow certain tasks and, importantly, a shared philosophy of streamlining communication.
“Before Asana, managers would have one-on-one meetings and spend the entire time getting up to speed on things. Then there’s no time for the fun stuff – the mentoring and the strategizing,” Mr. Rosenstein said. “Asana ends up being this collective memory.”
When Doug Hirsch needed to get a prescription antibiotic, he went to his local pharmacy where his bill would have been $642 (U.S.).