The One Question That No One Will Answer On Quora

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Sept. 12 2012 5:24 PM

The One Question That No One Will Answer On Quora

Charlie Cheever
Quora co-founder Charlie Cheever is stepping down, and Quora users are turning to Quora to find out why.

Jon Gosier / Wikimedia Commons

When private companies lose top officials, whether through firing, retirement, or resignation, they tend to be tight-lipped about the factors that went into the decision. There's usually a short press release or statement, followed by a lot of "no comment" and "we have nothing more to say on this matter," and that's that.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

Q: So what happens when the company is Quora, a website dedicated entirely to allowing users to ask and get answers to any question that's on their minds? A: A flood of questions, but few answers.

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The site, which has been hailed as an alternative or perhaps even an heir to Wikipedia (and—full disclosure—has an editorial relationship with Slate) was founded in January 2010 by a pair of ex-Facebookers, Adam D'Angelo and Charlie Cheever. On Tuesday, D'Angelo posted a question and answer on Quora announcing that Cheever would be stepping down from his post. The original question—"Why is Charlie Cheever stepping away from Quora day-to-day?"—has since been edited to "What is Charlie Cheever's status at Quora as of September 11, 2012?" Here's D'Angelo's answer:

We decided it was best for Charlie to step away from his day-to-day role at the company. He will always be a founder of Quora and will be an advisor to the company. I have a lot of respect for Charlie and we wouldn't be where we are today without him. Many of his contributions will remain as core parts of the company’s history and culture. Charlie and I both continue to care deeply about the employees of Quora, the writers and readers of Quora, and want to do what’s best to see Quora continue to grow into a successful company that helps everyone share knowledge.

As official announcements about the departure of a company co-founder go, that's a fine statement. It's succinct but not brusque, generous but not disingenuous. As an answer to a Quora question, however, many of the site's users found it less than satisfying. One of Quora's great virtues is the candor with which respondents often address even the most awkward questions. And questions about the internal workings of Silicon Valley tech firms are among the most popular and illuminating on the site.

So it's unsurprising that a number of Quora users and fans have gone fishing for more juicy details, calling on either Cheever himself or one of the company's employees to spill the beans—anonymously, if necessary. A sampling of questions that sprang up on the site within hours of the announcement:

So far, no one at the company is biting. [UPDATE: I reached out to Quora, and a spokesperson had no further comment beyond D'Angelo's statement on the site.]  One anonymous post purporting to tell the inside story from an employee's perspective was quickly deemed a hoax and removed from view by a Quora moderator. As some commenters have pointed out, there are likely non-disclosure agreements at work here, and it's unreasonable to expect Quora's employees to breach their colleagues' privacy on the company's own site. That hasn't stopped people from finding creative new ways to ask the question, though. The latest: What's the most fantastic fanfiction you can come up with as to why Charlie Cheever is leaving Quora?

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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