Quora and StackExchange = Their Founders

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In the past 2 months, I have had the pleasure of meet the leaders of StackExchange (Jeff Atwood) and Quora (Charlie Cheever).  I have also been using Quora and UX.StackExchange quite frequently over the last year.  They are very different services.

At first, I thought about them as different web applications, specifically, different non-human things.  A website is not a person.  I thought that each application was conceived and brought to life as an independent thought.  After meeting both founders though, I have come to the conclusion that I was thinking about it the wrong way.

Quora and StackExchange are projections of the individual personalities of their founders.  I imagine that most applications could say the same thing.

Jeff Atwood, when I met him was clearly the kind of person who likes things to be orderly. ¬†He likes his world to be categorized and¬†systematized. ¬†He mentioned the word “scope” many times in the sense that questions should have a limited and understood scope. ¬†They shouldn’t be open-ended exploratory discussions. ¬†Although, I am sure that he would be a fascinating dinner guest with wonderful opinions in open ended discussions, you could easily see his “sweet spot” was in the most specific topics. ¬†Bottom line: ¬†Jeff’s mind was super orderly.

On the other hand, Charlie Cheever struck me as an explorer. ¬†He talked about multi-tasking and context switching. ¬†You could see he wanted to think about lots of topics at the same time. ¬†His mind wandered and created connections. ¬† Bottom line: Charlie’s mind was a neural network.

Quora and StackExchange are projections of these personalities.  Quora is a neural net of questions and people.  StackExchange (and all of its subsidiary sites) are a fixed taxonomy of objective questions.  It is a direct result of the personalities of their founders.

Don’t get me wrong, both Charlie and Jeff are wonderful human beings and are not monochromatic 2 dimensional characters. ¬†They are complex like the rest of us. ¬†My main point is to think about web applications in the context of the people making decisions about them. ¬†You might find they are more related than you thought.


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