Q: Why Did Twitter Acqhire Fluther? A: “Search Is Mature,” Social Q&A Is Still “Wide Open”
People already ask a lot of questions on Twitter, but it is not designed as a structured social Q&A site like Quora. But that may change judging by a talent acquisition of the team at Fluther, a social Q&A service founded in 2007 that raised $600,000 from Ron Conway, Marc Andreessen, Ben Horowitz, and Naval Ravikant. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Twitter did not buy the Fluther product or shares of the company. Rather it entered into an agreement with the five-person team to join Twitter in return for some sort of compensation to Fluther’s shareholders.
I reached CEO and founder Ben Finkel on the phone a few minutes ago. He couldn’t get into details of the deal and isn’t even sure what his new title is going to be or where exactly inside Twitter his team will land. “It is too early to say,” he tells me. What he will say about how the deal is this: “We were basically planning to raise another round, then people started to talk to us about an acquisition. Once we thought about it, given where we were, it made a lot of sense.”
Fluther offers a crowd-sourced Q&A service along the lines of Aardvark, Quora, and even Yahoo Answers. What distinguished Fluther is how it tries to deliver an answer in realtime and distributes questions to people based on what they know. The company was branching out into a federated Q&A product which could be used by different websites, but all share the same database. Like most Q&A sites, the majority of its traffic came from organic search, although Twitter aso produced a “healthy amount of traffic.”
Finkel says the site has more than 1 million unique visitors a month,and is growing quickly. But based on external estimates such as Google Trends for Websites, it appears that it was recently overtaken by Quora (see chart below). The Fluther site will continue to operate independently, but the team will now work on other projects at Twitter.
What exactly they are going to work on Finkel wouldn’t get into, but it is a fair assumption that Twitter acq-hired the Fluther team for its expertise in social Q&A. That could mean that Twitter is going to go after Quora now, or perhaps that it simply wants to do a better job organizing all the questions and answers already on Twitter.
Speaking generally about why social Q&A sites are so hot right now, Finkel suggests that it is because it is an entirely new way to search for information: “Search is overly mature. People want to interact with other people. Ultimately, it is still a hard problem because you are connecting people who don’t know each other. It is still a huge, wide-open space.”
I will speculate a little here and take that thought one step further. Twitter also is about “connecting people who don’t know each other,” at least people who only know each other online for the most part. Social Q&A works better the more people who can potentially answer a given question, but there needs to be some connection, otherwise it’s no different than Yahoo Answers. Whether or not you trust someone’s answer might depend on who else they are connected to. The relevance of a given answer therefore depends on the authority of the person giving the answer, and authority is relative to each questioner. Twitter is already trying to solve the social relevance problems in different ways. Q&A is the next logical step.
So here’s my question: How long will it take before we see a Q&A product inside Twitter?