Speculation from 2013: Cheever vs D’Angelo = Existing Users vs Google Traffic

Recall Scott Welch: When do you think Quora is going to end?: Scott Welch’s speculation that Google Traffic is what will keep Quora in money forever—and the existing userbase is an expendable loss-leader.

I was intrigued to read this speculation, from the time Cheever was ousted, that Cheever was pro cultivating the existing userbase, and D’Angelo was pro encouraging Google Traffic. Maybe the poster really was on to something….

One suspects there’s a lot less going on than what everyone would like to think…. (comment on: The Sudden, Mysterious Exit Of A Quora Cofounder Has Silicon Valley Baffled)

One suspects there’s a lot less going on than what everyone would like to think. (Thanks, ChuckMcM, for the nice post about money and stock.)

Mr Cheever is “something of a product design genius, and lots of people give him credit for Facebook’s best features;” even the now-removed-from-Quora post says “to him the user came first and growth features would sacrifice that.” That puts him in complete opposition to the guy (Mr D’Angelo, who to his credit is putting his money where his mouth is) who is paying the bills.

The problem is that almost every Q&A type site has the same issue as Quora: only a small percentage of its membership is actively engaged. The number cited by the article is eight per cent, and in my experience, that’s about par for the course. Since revenues (and therefore stock performance) are directly tied to use, there are two ways to increase revenues, with implications regarding the user experience for both:

1. Increase traffic, AKA “make the pie bigger”. This means doing the kinds of things Mr D’Angelo probably championed — the SEO Solution, playing nice with Google, low barriers to entry (i.e. Free). This is the tactic taken by most startups, since they’re generally looking at Mountain View and saying “Gee, if we could just get our hands wet in THAT revenue stream, we’d be rich.”

2. Keep your existing userbase more engaged, AKA “get your customers to eat more pie”. This means doing the kinds of things Mr Cheever championed — making the experience better, providing more services to them, concentrating on getting lifelong customers rather than more customers for less time. Most startups aren’t in it for the long haul; they’re in it for the big payday.

The NYTimes obit of Arthur Sulzberger pointed out the difference. His family has always wanted to be in the business of disseminating the news; their competitors are in the business of selling advertising. Mr Cheever wanted to take care of users; Mr D’Angelo wants to see a return on his investment. If there was ever a startup in the position to do the former, it’s Quora; I know my colleagues would dearly love to have enough money to where they wouldn’t have to worry for a while how to keep the lights on.

But as William F. Buckley noted a long time ago, “Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive,” and that’s when someone like Mr Cheever moves on to his next venture.

Is there a language designed for use by both human and artificial intelligence?

The artificial language Lojban was not expressly designed to be used by machines; it (or rather its antecedent Loglan) was designed as a test of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, its overt basis in predicate logic being sufficiently alien that its inventor thought it would serve the purpose.

Lojban is something of a kitchen sink language in its design, but its design has several aspects which are appealing to at least some AI enthusiasts:

  • It has spoken syntactic brackets, and it can be parsed syntactically by an LALR parser (defined in Yacc); so its syntax as formally specified is unambiguous.
  • It is also morphologically unambiguous, at the cost of some restrictive phonotactics. (I’m seeing that loanword phonotactics are less restrictive than they were in my day.) So a stream of phonemes can be broken up into morphemes only one way.
  • It was a well-elaborated list of 1300-odd basic predicates, with their arguments fully specified. It has prepositions supporting a full case grammar, and (unofficially) conventions for deriving compound predicate arguments from their components. (I was involved in the latter.) This does not quite make its semantics as unambiguous as they’d like, but it certainly puts it on a very formal footing.

Syntactic and morphological ambiguity are not the big challenge of natural language processing; stats tends to take care of that. Semantics is always sloppier, but I’m not sure that the new generation stats-mongerers are that fussed about formal semantics either. But yes, Lojban has been attractive to several AI people for that reason. Ben Goertzel, who is on here, has been vocal about this; see e.g. Aspects of Artificial General Intelligence.

If the Iliad is ‘Iliadic’, and the Odyssey is ‘Odyssean’, what is the Aeneid?

Two ways of solving this: via Greek and via Latin.

Greek first. I don’t care if the Aeneid is in Latin.

  • Iliad: Nominative Iliás, Genitive Iliádos, so the stem is Iliad-. (The nominative in proto-Greek would be *Iliad-s.) Hence, Iliad-ic.
  • Odyssey: Nominative Odússeia, Genitive Odusseías, so the stem is Odussei-. First declension, –ikos didn’t attach to those, Latin does its own thing, mumble mumble stuff I don’t actually know, which leads to Odysse(i)-an.
  • In Greek, the Aeneid is Aineiás, by analogy with Iliás. So if Aeneid were an originally Greek word, its adjective would be Aene(i)ad-ic.
  • In Latin, for whatever reason, the Aeneid is Nominative Aenei-s, Genitive Aenei-dis (treating the word as Latin) or Aenei-dos (treating the word as Greek. So the stem is Aeneid-, not Aenead– in Latin (therefore Aeneid in English), and if we treat Aeneid as a Latin word, the adjective is Aeneid-ic.

Google: 239 hits for Aeneidic, 146 for Aeneadic, both of which look to be used by reputable sources.

How regular do you get messages for BNBR policy violation?

Been on Quora for close to two years. Have had two benburrs (h/t Gigi J Wolf), both resulting from quoting someone else (and both of which I reject as intractable tone policing):

I’m pretty conflict averse, I’d like to think, which may explain it. I also don’t seem to have been as much of a target as, say, Habib. (Yet…)

How many followers must one have to be acknowledged in the Necrologue?

Guidelines for this blog by Nick Nicholas on Necrologue

  • The user named must have reached a reasonable level of notability: at least 100 followers. No exceptions, though I have been tempted.

How does the Necrologue work?

Guidelines for this blog by Nick Nicholas on Necrologue

I solicit personal messages from users, to let me know who’s been banned or blocked: How does Nick Nicholas keep track of all those Quora users who are banned, edit blocked, deactivated, etc?

  • This blog will publish notifications as they come to the editor’s attention.
  • This information must be independently verifiable (big red banner on their profile; posting by the user indicating that they are leaving Quora; notice of edit blocking in user log).
  • Posts on this blog will only name the users in question. Speculation about why people have been banned or blocked will not be entertained. If I find what could be construed as speculation or BNBR violations, I will invite commenters to delete their comments.
  • No value judgement about why people have been banned will be entertained. Some people may well have deserved it. Maybe even most. Some may not. But the purpose of this blog is to raise visibility of moderator actions; not to protest it.
  • BNBR applies in comments.

See also Category definitions by Nick Nicholas on Necrologue for the kinds of user status tracked. As of April,

  • Deactivation notices will not be published by default to Necrologue. The community is invited to submit such notices to Argologue instead.

How do you retain and instill an ethnic identity from birth when living in a foreign country?

I’m not going to speak to the details of the question, but to the general question: how to help instill your ethnic identity abroad, in a child whose identity you have some say in. (If you don’t have a direct say in it, Andrew Crawford’s answer applies: be a good role model.)

  • Acknowledge that the child will have the identity of the country they are brought up in, and that identity will ultimately prevail. You can cocoon the child a fair bit before they go to school, and to some extent even after. But if you get too defensive about your ethnic identity, that will end up backfiring in the child’s teens, and your cherished ethnic identity will be something they rebel against, reject, flee from, and ultimately resent. You don’t want that.
  • Immerse the child in the culture of your ethnic identity at home. That means TV and books and talking the language at home and little songs and games, and trips back to the mother country. Try not to convey resentment or superiority over the host culture: that will backfire too.
  • Immerse the child in the culture of your ethnic identity outside of the home. That means hanging out in the local ethnic community, and building a store of fond memories and associations. It means the culture will be real and lived for the child, not a mere abstraction or playacting at home.

The way to instill your ethnic identity is to build fond associations of family and rootedness and affect in the child with that identity. And even so, being Greek in Melbourne in the 1980s was not the same as being Greek in Athens in the 1980s. Being Greek in Melbourne in the 2010s, even less so. It’s a losing battle. But by being positive and warm about it, you can make the loss more gradual, and more reluctant.