Following the pioneer’s step, Zhihu(like Quora) becomes an overnight sensation in Chinese websphere, with many people of consequence actively asking and answering question there, including Kaifu Lee, the former Google China head who founded Innovation Works, Hong Bo, one of the most prominent internet observer in China, Yang Bo, founder of Douban.com and many other experts from various fields.
However, Quora isn’t the only answer to Social QA service, and it’s more serious with higher bars for users. For instance, only invited users can register and join in Quora now. The site has 547,000 users as of Jan 2011. On the other hand, Formspring.me which founded in Nov. 2009, now has a total of over 24 million users with over 3.5 million unique visitors every day. And yes, anyone can sign up here.
The differences between Quora and formspring.me lie on many aspects besides the entry barrier, Quora prefers real users and serious and constructive answers. Users can vote up or vote down answers if they think the answer is good or stupid. People want to be smart – or at least sounds like so – so it’s much easier to locate lengthy answers on Quora or its Chinese counterpart Zhihu. While formspring.me tells a totally different story. Most of the questions are just for friends’ amusement. You can almost ask anything there and have your friends answer them. That’s why to many, it’s a social tool to enhance friendship via interesting questions.
Mifan.me, the Chinese formspring.me, apparently bears the same approach to social QA innovation. Went online couple weeks ago, its founders all shared the same and simple vision that the site should serve the real users rather than a small number of experts or so-called high-end users.
Currently, there’re 7 people in Mifan.me team, the dev team used to work at Baidu, Tencent and Shanda, some of the top-notch internet entities in China, so Li Chong, Mifan co-founder and CEO I talked to, told me that they didn’t worry about server overloading issue at all even if their users cross 10 million because of the scalable architecture.
screenshot of mifan.me
When asked about why they decide upon the Formspring.me model, Li said that with the trends of online services going towards social and vertical, they saw opportunity in services combining both. Another reason is that, they believe that online life service area lacks of attention and curation. There’s too much potential to be tapped, for example, location or regional based QA service, vertical QA site with special focus and so on. And also, they think formspring.me is very cool, hence they followed the most popular QA site’s ideology.
Life service is going online, while whatever online is going social
The creation of Mifan.me has taken the advantage of such an opportunity when life service is going online while whatever online is going social. According to Li, users are sticky with the newly-released site because of its excellent user experience.
As for business model, Li disclosed that except for online ads which are adopted by most websites, Mifan team also considered about value-added service through data mining, targeted classified information etc. But there’re more to be explored, Li said. Because, he believed that for most listed companies, they spent at least 2 years in early stage testing out ideas.
With more and more social QA sites enter competition, such as Zheye, Rfanti, Sinan(which means ancient Chinese compass) and Baidu’s Xinzhi, Mifan team actually saw this as an benefit, for they can cultivate the markets.
Strong and Immediate Interaction
When asked about the site’s most profound innovation, Li said that strong and immediate interaction are what the Mifan team is raving about.
For future plans, Mifan hopes to amass over 1 million users by year end. As to products, mifan planning to release mobile clients for iOS, Android phones, as well as provides stronger API for 3rd party developers to ramp up the ecosystem. They’re also considering partner with sizable social networking sites to complete their platforms.