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China's Q&A site Zhihu completes financing to strengthen knowledge resources

Zhou Yuan, founder of Zhihu Photo: The Financial Times

China's question-and-answer platform Zhihu has announced at a press conference the completion of its largest-ever financing round of $270 million, which it said will be used to boost the commercialization of knowledge sharing, amid efforts to attract competent knowledge providers by making their knowledge sellable.

Over the recent two years, Zhihu has been exploring ways to make profit by rolling out a series of new features on its platform including the paid knowledge consulting, Zhihu Bookstore, real-time question-and-answer service Zhihu Live and Zhihu University, through which users can learn something through paid video courses.

But archrival Wukong Wenda dealt a blow to Zhihu in August last year when hundreds of popular opinion leaders left Zhihu and signed up for Wukong Wenda. Wukong Wenda is a knowledge sharing platform backed by Chinese news aggregator Jinri Toutiao, which rose to fame by providing algorithm-driven news feed service.

Wukong Wenda's move was considered an escalation of the race for quality online content providers. From then on, Zhihu started racking its brain to figure out how to retain good content providers and how to help them earn money.

At the press conference where the $270 million financing round was announced, Zhihu gave its answer – the "Haiyan" plan.

Generally speaking, the "Haiyan" plan is made up of a content quality evaluation system and a content creator center.

The content quality evaluation system will give ratings to Zhihu users ranging from 0 points to 1,000 points in terms of basic credibility, content creation, friendly interaction, regulatory compliance and construction of online community. The higher ratings users are given, the better quality their contents are.

The content quality evaluation system will be helpful in wiping out those contents which are based on prejudice, non-professional knowledge, feudalistic superstition and rumors. And users with low ratings are limited to access to certain functions of the Zhihu platform.

"Zhihu will try to use the content quality evaluation system to strengthen Zhihu's online community and provide a sound discussion environment for users," said Sun Dayun, director of Zhihu's community management.

The content creator center will bring economic benefits to quality content providers, who are able to earn money by means of completing tasks on Zhihu Live, answering users' questions, accepting advertisements and publishing books.

"The significance of the 'Haiyan' plan is that quality contents can be sorted out by a group of editors sharing same values," said Zeng Wen, a Zhihu user who has 66,000 followers.

Zeng, who is an answer provider in the field of psychology, has used Zhihu for four years, during which he published electronic books in cooperation with Zhihu, gave two online lectures on Zhihu Live and answered more than 200 questions.

Zeng was given some titles by Zhihu, like "good answerer", which he thinks is very important for him to expand influence on the platform. "The recognition from Zhihu is like an endorsement of professionalism and once brought me an offer from a Shandong province-based education company," said Zeng.

Besides the "Haiyan" plan, Zhihu will also capitalize on artificial intelligence to solve the problems about content production, content quality, community environment maintenance and information recommendation, said Zhou Yuan, founder and chief executive officer of Zhihu, in a letter emailed to its employees.

In the past, recommendation algorithm played a more important role in automatically connecting questions with good answers, said Zhou in the letter.

"Zhihu aims to become a tool for consumers to gain knowledge and opinions by accumulating good answers, excellent answerers, vivid community environment and structured contents," said Zhou.

As of now, there are 110 million answers available on the Zhihu platform, said the company.

According to statistics provided by the company, Zhihu has 180 million registered users, with the number of daily average users reaching 8.21 million. In the first half of 2018, the commercial advertisement revenue jumped 340 percent from a year ago, showed the statistics.

However, Zhihu has been criticized by some users for enhanced advertisement exposure and reduced content quality. It is also a worry for investors of Zhihu.

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