When the developers at Quora got their hands on iOS 7, they saw the potential to create a seamless browsing and reading experience. Instead of being bogged down by buttons and clicking, they wanted people to focus on content. Timed to iOS 7's release Wednesday, the Q&A site unleashed a redesigned iPhone app that puts content front and center, and Quora tells Fast Company it intends to debut an iPad version in the coming months.
"We threw away the old code and designed the new app from the ground up," said Quora's Marc Bodnick, who oversees oversees product marketing, site governance, community, and business operations. The result is a fresh app he describes as "more finger-centric and not eye-centric," where content is in the forefront and the UI disappears.
"You swipe between feeds, swipe to go back, swipe to notifications, swipe to finish your draft. You're not searching for where a link is. Your thumb can basically just page, page, page," Bodnick said as he demonstrated its functionality. In addition to letting users comment, vote, and share inline, the app also separates feeds into five views: top stories, questions and answers, open questions, blogs, and reviews.
About a third of Quora's audience comes from mobile, and that number is steadily growing. "I expect we'll be over half mobile soon enough," Bodnick said. The company has noticed much higher engagement on mobile, with users spending twice as much time browsing on their phones compared with the desktop site. Noticing this trend, Quora has quadrupled its mobile team to about 10 people since its iPhone app debuted in 2011. Though the company closely guards user numbers, Bodnick said it is "tripling year-over-year across all metrics."
With more than 400,000 topics on the site, Bodnick said there is "probably millions of hours of reading" on subjects from the new car smell to politics surrounding Syria. Since its founding in 2009, Quora has diversified from its largely Northern Californian and techie base. Today, it is most popular in New York City, and about a third of all traffic is international. Generally, topics on the site are evenly distributed across five buckets: entertainment, technology and business, politics and economy, advice, and everything else.
Entertainment has seen surprising organic growth as more people use the iPhone app as a second screen while watching television. "If you're explaining some idiosyncrasy of Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, you know a lot of people will be interested in that," Bodnick said. Given its use as a second-screen app, it's not surprising people have been craving a version for the iPad. The company says it's working on one that should land by the end of the year.
Quora blossomed from the idea that 90% of what people know is locked inside their heads. Yet as the company grows, one of its challenges is to help users discover new topics, questions, and people to follow. To help readers stay engaged, the company is considering building a recommendation engine. But overall, finding new content has remained a major obstacle for Quora, which barely launched full-text search six months ago.
In addition to building for mobile, Quora remains focused on keeping the quality of user-generated content high. Part of this is ensured by an automated system that reads cues from users, including votes, followers, and views. The other comes from house rules: common decency and civility. While Bodnick declined to name names, what distinguishes Quora from, say, Reddit, is accountability. "We require you to use your real name on Quora, and we require you to be nice and be respectful," he said. Though users can post anonymously, that veil can be taken away if the site's rules are broken. That mutual respect helps draws respected people from a diverse range of backgrounds to answer questions, including those formerly in the military, members of the clergy, and of course CEOs of tech companies. "The most remarkable thing is the quality's stayed high even as we diversified into other topics," Bodnick said.