Q&A sites – multiple niche sites or one big one?

Q&A sites are hot right now! Yesterday I wrote about Quora’s challenges and then today I find a great piece on Techmeme from Joel Spolsky, CEO of Stack Overflow.  Stack Overflow is one of 33 Q&A sites operated by StackExchange, and the interesting thing about that is that their model is to create multiple niche sites instead of housing all the niches under one roof (the Quora model).

Overall, Stack Overflow had a very successful 2010, with uniques up 131% to 16m per month, high answer rates and a host of new niche sites launched.  They have even set up a site/process called Area51 which governs the launch of new sites.  The original Stack Overflow site for programmers is still the grand daddy of them all, and at 1.3m questions and 1.3m visits per day it is 10x the next biggest site.

Everyone (including me) is wondering how (and whether) Quora will maintain its allure as it scales.  The nice thing about the Stack Overflow model of multiple niche sites is that the same level of scale isn’t necessary.  New sites can be launched instead of growing traffic on existing sites, which is a clever way of not getting caught up in the tension between volume and quality.

Multiple niche sites matches more naturally onto the way we organise our lives as well.  Our different offline interest communities happen in different places rather than being housed under one roof, which makes it easier to dip in and out as our interest level varies over time.

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