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Under pressure to grow, Quora moves into publishing blogs

By Gerry Shih

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Under pressure to quicken its growth, the once-red hot question-and-answer startup Quora.com said it will launch a blogging platform to encourage more input from its users, who share everything from intensely personal experiences to deep technical knowledge on the site.

Touted just two years ago as the next Wikipedia, or perhaps even the next Google, Quora has not overtaken its more modest rivals, much less joined the pantheon of Web giants.

Quora now has roughly 2 million monthly visitors who go to post and answer questions about practically anything, compared to Yahoo! Answers' 69 million and Answers.com's 49 million, according to ComScore statistics.

By cultivating a blog network, the site could be laying the groundwork to pivot into a more traditional ad-supported media property.

Marc Bodnick, a former investment partner at Elevation Partners who is now Quora's senior business executive, said the new format should appeal to writers who do not already blog, or who do not maintain a heavily trafficked personal site. Quora also said it would release a new smartphone app with advanced text editing tools so its contributors can write on the go.

"Building a blog and marketing it is really hard work and requires a lot of time," Bodnick said. "On Quora, if you come on and write one good thing it could explode. No matter who you are, we can provide you the audience."

Quora will retain its well-known Q & A format, but the new set of publishing tools is the first significant change to the feel of the site, which has kept its minimalistic layout largely unchanged since its launch in 2009.

The startup was the darling of Silicon Valley when it was founded by two early Facebook Inc employees, Adam D'Angelo and Charles Cheever, who vowed to revolutionize how human knowledge is shared by tapping the power of the Internet masses.

Despite being a free service, Quora raised $50 million - including $20 million put forward by D'Angelo himself and millions more from former Facebook director Peter Thiel - in the heady months leading up to Facebook's initial public offering in 2012 that reportedly valued the company at a hefty $400 million.

But questions have mounted over when or how Quora will finally begin to make money, whether through selling advertising or subscriptions. In September, rumors about tensions within the company bubbled up when Cheever announced he would step back from day-to-day operations.

Bodnick said the company recognized the need for revenue but dismissed the notion that the 50-person, Mountain View, California-based startup was under any pressure.

"We know we're going to need to make money and we do have some intriguing ideas around that," Bodnick said. He added that the ideas were "advertising-oriented" but did not elaborate.

"We're really just getting bigger right now and not focused on monetizing," he said. "We're fine. Our investors are super supportive of the approach we're taking."

Although it has been widely praised for the quality of its user contributions - former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers has volunteered thoughts on the Japanese economic malaise, for instance - there is a sense that part of what has hampered Quora's geeky reputation has hampered its mainstream adoption.

"We have a marketing challenge because our content is actually pretty diverse," Bodnick said.

The company thinks there is no reason why it cannot be a thoughtful forum for discussing both the subtler points of software programming and, say, the comparative qualities of NBA big men or pop divas.

Compared to the site's early days, when it attracted mostly Silicon Valley digerati who discussed the Valley's work culture or startup financing, less than 10 percent of the site's answers today are written by users from California, Bodnick said, adding that film and food are also some of the most popular among the site's 300,000 discussion topics.

To showcase its variety, Quora recently published a hardcover collection of its best writing from the past two years. The volume included candid responses to questions ranging from "How do actors' spouses feel about love scenes in film and TV?" to "What does the first day of 5+ year prison sentence feel like?" to "If I want to look smart, what do I need to know about the Higgs Boson discovery?"

Bodnick argued that Quora should be enticing to would-be bloggers because it could direct a large number of readers to a single, well-written post almost instantly.

"After two years, we can now deliver audiences at scale," Bodnick said.

(Reporting By Gerry Shih; editing by Jim Marshall)

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