Questions About Discovery's New Q&A Site, Curiosity

question mark bench

Discovery Communications' newest web venture, Curiosity.com, launched today. If you've got a question, tap it into Curiosity's search box. If one of Discovery's numerous properties has answered it in the past, you'll get those results. But there's also a new content section with answers supplied by experts—including big names like Google's Vint Cerf, the "father of the Internet." The site is, essentially, a promo vehicle for Discovery and the TV show that carries the site's name, and a way to attract new visitors with some linkbaited content, albeit of an intellectual nature.

Curiosity isn't Quora—with its more open-ended, albeit curated, answer submissions. It also isn't Answers.com, where pretty much anyone can weigh in with their opinion on a question that's asked and answered in an open forum. Quora is a scorching-hot property right now, with its boutique feel (driven partly by the invite-only membership list) and the fact that some high-brow questions submitted to it attract some very highly qualified commenters. The way Quora posts can turn into debates can also make for useful and insightful reads. Meanwhile, Answers.com just rolls along, steadily delivering traffic due in part to a search strategy that keeps it front and center on Google (though if you've used it, you know it's not necessarily always the most reliable information).

Which makes Curiosity something of a curiosity in the Q&A space. If you want to become a Curiosity expert and offer answers to its "questions of life," then you have to be an "appropriate professional and/or and appropriately published author." There's an extensive form to fill in that summarizes your experience history, and you must check a box on a "legal agreement" certifying that all your biographical data is honest and factual. This also permits Discovery to contact "any of the organizations, academies, and associations" you cite.

The site is cherry-picking who can answer its posters, and it's also applying some TV-expert spit and polish. This means the question "How was Sputnik a motivator for students" returns a video answer from Vint Cerf himself. The post also has a short text-based article associated with it, which makes it searchable.

Jeff Arnold (former CEO of WebMD and the guy behind the new site) told AllThingsD that Curiosity expects to derive answer-based traffic from Google and other search engines, as well as driving organic traffic from people who go there specifically in search of answers. Arnold expects it to appeal to "learners" who come back to it repeatedly for amusement as much as answers, instead of the type of one-off visitor that Answers.com gets.

Ultimately, Curiosity's traffic may suffer because the group of Discovery fans curious enough to visit it by their own volition is probably not that broad. It's not crowdsourced, which means it's not crammed with content (both in terms of questions and answers) that would give it an edge on Google. And it's tightly curated, so only folks Discovery approves can get on board, which also limits its relevance. If a brand-new topic or tech pops up in the news and Curiosity visitors get curious about it, then it's not necessarily a given that the site has an appropriate expert signed up.

Curiosity is so polished that it'll definitely make a splash with users. And wouldn't you trust an answer from a graphically slick website coming from the same guys that bring you all that clever TV content, instead of the odd, opinionated answers on the uglier Answers website? It may outlast the TV show it partners, but because of its limitations, it's probably not going to be the king of Q&A sites.

[Image: Flickr user drachmann]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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