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Yandex acquires question-and-answer website launched by Russian journalist

What started out as a project to stimulate Russia’s grassroots democracy is now a multi-million-dollar Internet resource, following Tuesday’s announcement that Yandex has fully acquired TheQuestion, a question-and-answer social network founded by former Ekho Moskvy journalist Tonia Samsonova. Yandex will merge the website with a similar service it launched last year, integrating the answers submitted and up-voted by users into the company’s “Alice” virtual assistant.

Samsonova told The Bell that she has been named director of the new merged project, and all 30 of TheQuestion’s employees will move with her. Yandex approached her about the acquisition, Samsonova says, and it took roughly six months to negotiate the sale. Neither side has revealed how much Yandex paid, but sources told The Bell that the search engine giant spent roughly three times what Samsonova had managed to raise in startup cash, which was reportedly about $1 million in 2016. According to VC.ru, TheQuestion’s owners were private investors with expertise in technology and media, while control over the company remained with Samsonova and her team. Samsonova has not named the project’s investors, but she confirms that none of them was a Yandex executive.

In four years, TheQuestion says it’s published roughly 700,000 answers and now attracts an average 10 million visitors a month. Industry sources told Vedomosti that annual revenues fall between 30 million and 80 million rubles ($457,345 and $1.2 million), which the company earns from banner ads, native advertising (which costs as much as 350,000 rubles, or $5,335, for “special project” promotions), “corporate knowledge databases” (available only to staff at corporate partners), and corporate accounts and partner responses (which allow clients to answer users’ questions with links to their products and services). Samsonova told The Bell that the project has about 1,000 partners from various industries.

TheQuestion resembles the California-based website Quora, which was valued at around $1.8 billion two years ago and last September reported 300 million active users. A more direct competitor is a question-and-answer service operated by Mail.ru, which claims 65 million monthly users.