By Jon Swartz, USA TODAY
SAN FRANCISCO What's one of the hottest new areas for technology investment? The answer: question-and-answer websites.
Stack Overflow is the latest to join the fray on the heels of new Silicon Valley darling Quora.
Today, Stack publicly launches Stack Exchange, a network of 33 Q&A sites on topics ranging from computer science to cooking. The service, in beta testing for seven months, has more than 1.5 million users, up 50% from November. It is looking to add one topic site a week.
There seems to be no limit to websites devoted to answering questions for consumers. Many are not only adding millions of customers but millions of dollars from tech investors.
Last year, Stack raised $6 million from Union Square Ventures.
Meanwhile, recent buzz over Quora has been positively Twitter-like.
The Q&A site — founded by former Facebook employees and already valued at $86 million, based on undisclosed funding from Benchmark Capital— combines elements of Facebook, Yahoo Answers, Wikipedia, Twitter, and two of its competitors, Ask.com and JustAnswer.
There have been Q&A websites for years, such as Answers.com. Texting and website service ChaCha started in 2005. But newer services such as Stack and Quora are narrower in focus, with experts providing the answers.
Spolsky divides the fledgling field into two categories: horizontal sites, where anything can be asked and anyone can answer, and vertical sites, such as Stack Exchange. "Listen, if you are a math researcher at UC-Berkeley, you're not going to go to Yahoo Answers," Spolsky says. "Our motto is to link experts together, so they can get definitive answers on specific topics."
Stack Overflow makes its money through targeted advertising.
Meanwhile, better-established Q&A sites say there's a healthy market for competing players.
"There is a lot of interest because people have a discrete need to have questions answered," says Doug Leeds, CEO of Ask.com, which combines search and Q&A services. Ask has 90 million users worldwide.
At least one company is getting people to pay for its expertise. Millions have paid about $20 per question to get medical, legal, financial and other advice on JustAnswer, started seven years ago by CEO Andy Kurtzig.
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