Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo talks about artificial intelligence, the chatbot platform Poe and why OpenAI is not the competition

Last November, Adam D’Angelo found himself at the epicenter of one of the biggest controversies in the tech industry. The board of directors of OpenAI—the $80 billion startup leading the AI ​​bandwagon—suddenly had boots its executive director, Sam Altmanjust to put him back to work just a few days later. D’Angelo was on the board that fired Altman… and was (and remains) on the board that brought him back. In fact, he was the only person to retain his post amid the ensuing restructuring that saw much of the original board leave.

It was a difficult time for OpenAI, but perhaps doubly so for D’Angelo, as the drama unfolded while his own company, Quora, was making big strides toward AI.

Quora, the question-and-answer site that D’Angelo co-founded and runs as CEO, was building its own AI platform while raising funds (and $75 million round who valued it at $425 million, according to PitchBook). In February 2023, the company launched Poe (short for Platform for Open Exploration), which allows users to ask questions and chat with various chatbots, allows developers to create their own bots and offers bot earning program and market similar to OpenAI’s GPT store.

Quora’s core Q&A service also faced some big questions. Existing search engines like Google and Bing have started using AI to produce more fluid results and answer questions, and with tools like ChatGPT and Confusion being widely available, what could Quora do to secure its position as one of the best websites where people can get their questions answered? More importantly, does anyone actually want more or do they need questions and answers from the audience?

For D’Angelo, these questions are inherent in his pursuit of artificial intelligence, which he sees as an important tool that people can use to harness the collective knowledge of the Internet. An important if underrated figure in tech for years, he has long been involved in efforts to tap into the Internet’s store of knowledge — he was friends with Mark Zuckerberg in high school, where in 2002 the pair built a digital music suggestion service called Synapse that, according to this old piece from the Harvard Crimson, reject acquisition offers from Microsoft and more. He later became CTO at Facebook when it was just starting out and then eventually co-founded Quora.

All of this seems to have seemingly been a long way towards building an AI tool for him. I recently spoke with D’Angelo about the challenges and opportunities in AI today, how to build and support a community of developers, and what role humans can play in sharing and accessing knowledge. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

Humans are better at answering than AI – for now

The hype around artificial intelligence seems to have less of an impact on the search for information than you might think. D’Angelo said Quora is seeing record numbers of users despite the proliferation of AI tools — though he declined to update the figure of 400 million monthly active users published last July.

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Still, there is a bridge between what Quora set out to do and D’Angelo’s interest in AI. Recently, in a conversation with David George, General Partner at a16z, D’Angelo said he was drawn to social networking because he was actually interested in AI. The latter was difficult to develop at the time, but he saw social networks as an alternative architecture to achieve the same idea: people, gathered in a social network, in his opinion, almost played the role of living, large information models, because they could provide news, fun and more to each other.

He worked on the concept while with Facebook and later founded Quora to distill the role of social networks in answering questions. Now AI is taking over that role.

“In the past,” he told me, “humans were replaced by artificial intelligence to provide the answers. You can ask a question like, ‘What is the capital of California?’ and people would answer it on Quora. Now you can use AI tools to get that answer,” he said.

But AI, at least in its current form today, cannot provide answers to all the questions humans may have. That, D’Angelo believes, helps people retain a lot of value.

“Quora has always been based on the idea that people have a lot of knowledge that they have access to in their heads that is not available anywhere on the internet. And the AI ​​won’t have access to any of that knowledge,” D’Angelo said.

He admitted that the AI ​​still has hallucination an issuewhich makes it hard to trust such answers, even if newer, more advanced models are slowly making progress in solving the problem.

Developer support on Poe

Quora opened Poe to all users last year after several months of closed beta testing. Since then, the company has introduced tools for to create and review the bots in his market.

The company’s goal is for consumers to be able to use all different types of models or robots on the platform. For developers, the appeal lies in the ability to reach millions of users without worrying about cross-platform distribution. And developers can make money on Poe in two ways: the first is through referral when a user becomes a Poe premium subscriber through their bot; the second is by setting the rate per messageso they get paid based on how often people use their bot.

In essence, Poe offers developers and users access to a variety of large language models, but its functionality is similar to OpenAI’s ChatGPT and GPT Store.

But that means both platforms face some of the same challenges. They make it easy for anyone to create how-to bots, making it difficult for developers to stand out. D’Angelo told me there are already a million bots on the platform, compared to 3 million custom GPTs on ChatGPT. For reference, Apple’s App Store took more than five years to exceed the number of one million applications.

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Both Poe and the GPT Store also suffer from a ton of spam, bots with similar names, bots claiming to be running away from plagiarism, and even those flirting with copyright law. Poe also released a feature that allows users to chat with multiple bots in one conversation. All this noise makes it difficult to choose a bot that will do the job well.

Despite these challenges, D’Angelo says Quora wants to help developers make sustainable money by improving bot detection.

«One of our goals with developers is to be able to make a living (from building AI bots) and cover their operating costs,» he said. “We’ve taken a big step forward with the pay-per-message feature, but we also want to help developers get distribution within the platform as much as possible. So we’re working on improving our referral system so more people can learn about bots.”

There are no ads on Poe yet

Poe is growing steadily, but is still much smaller than ChatGPT. Market research company Similarweb suggests that Poe has 4 million monthly active users in the US (iOS and Android) and 3.1 million monthly active users worldwide (Android only). Compare this to ChatGPT, which now averages 100 million users per week.

D’Angelo said the company will stay away from ads, instead relying on them Poe’s $19.99 monthly subscription product to generate income. This contrasts with some other AI tools on the market: Confusion, Bing search and Generative Search Experience (SGE) by Google all featured ads.

Quora and D’Angelo declined to disclose revenue figures, but data from analytics firm Sensor Tower shows Poe users have spent $7.3 million on subscriptions since its launch, amounting to close to 40,000 paid users. By comparison, ChatGPT has more than 1 million paid subscribers, according to Sensor Tower.

More AI tools for Quora and Poe

Despite citing the importance of human answers, Quora is already experimenting with answers written by Poe. The page displays answers to some questions written by the AI ​​with a link that allows you to chat with Poe if you have additional questions.

Quora has started experimenting with AI-powered answers to some questions. Image credits: Screenshot taken by TechCrunch

D’Angelo said Quora already has systems in place to rate various human responses. It now applies techniques such as asking users via a survey whether an AI-generated answer is useful.

«My goal is for answers written by artificial intelligence to be ranked fairly and to be ranked above a human answer only if they are more useful than a human answer,» he said.

D’Angelo also wants to avoid Quora being labeled a «message engine.»

“I don’t think we’ve ever really seen Quora as a response mechanism. The term somehow implies that there are AI-only answers. Quora is really about human knowledge, and we will have artificial intelligence to enhance it,” he said.

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Quora is also working on AI tools that users can use to write answers and hopes to release them soon. D’Angelo noted that one of the tools he’s testing allows users to generate an image based on their responses.

The company uses AI in several other ways as well. One involves trying to catch bots or users using automation to answer questions on Quora. D’Angelo did not share details about the project, saying the company will warn criminals who try to cheat the system.

Several selling spots and user are recently highlighted that the quality of answers on Quora has gone down. To this, D’Angelo said that people feel that the overall standard of responses has decreased because low-quality responses are more visible. He said AI is helping the company differentiate between different quality responses, and early results look promising.

About the relationship between Quora and OpenAI

D’Angelo declined to discuss any drama with OpenAI — «I just can’t talk about any of this,» he said. “I’m not here to represent OpenAI. I can only represent Quora.” But he said he doesn’t see OpenAI as competition, because the bigger startup has, well, bigger ambitions.

“There is some sense of overlap in terms of what users can do on the GPT Store and what they can do on Poe. But that matters less in the grand scheme of things. OpenAI is working on this grand mission of building AGI (Artificial General Intelligence). And we at Quora want to make AI products available to the world — including OpenAI products.”

Quora also continues to be a «big customer» of OpenAI, and D’Angelo expects more collaboration with the company than competition.

«We spend a lot of money as a customer with OpenAI, because OpenAI is the biggest source of models for Poe,» he added.

Although D’Angelo mentioned that Quora pays «tens of millions» to developers on Poe and companies whose models the platform uses, he did not explicitly say how those payments compare to the payment to OpenAI.

Quora currently does not have data licensing agreements with any of the big companies, and is not considering building its own model, D’Angelo told TechCrunch.

«We are in no rush to license our data. We want to make sure that our rights and the rights of users are respected. Right now, there’s not a lot of clarity around how all of this (the AI ​​landscape) is going to play out. So now we’re just waiting before we take any steps in this direction,” D’Angelo said.

The company also relatively recently completed its latest fundraising, so it’s focused on building AI across its business and improving revenue growth on its existing products. He said Quora will go public «at some point,» but that’s not the focus right now.

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