Ask.fm Claims It’s Overtaken Q&A Giant Formspring – What’s Going On Here?

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After Formspring’s recent pivot away from the personal end of the social Q&A space, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s little growth left in this narcissistic of all mediums. But if European competitor Ask.fm‘s numbers are to believed that may not be the case.

The Latvia-based Formspring competitor says it’s now overtaken its US rival in terms of traffic, citing 37 million unique visitors per-month compared to Formspring’s 19-20 million.

The picture is a little less clear, however, if you factor in number of registered users, even if many may be dormant. Here Formspring is still the winner with 29.5 million versus Ask.fm’s 8 million, although the European site is seeing just shy of 60,000 new users sign up each day.

Bold claims aside, it’s worth taking a look at where exactly this growth is coming from, and what we might learn.

Drilling further into the numbers, Ask.fm CEO Ilja Terebin tells me that the Q&A service, in which users invite questions from their friends and others via their Ask.fm profile, is most prevalent in Turkey, Argentina, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and Spain. Meanwhile, it’s also seeing fast growth in most of South America and the Middle East, with traction in the US, UK, France, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, and Canada, also making headway.

That’s a pretty eclectic mix of English and non-English speaking countries and regions, although it helps that Ask.fm is available in 25 languages. Perhaps that’s lesson number one — localisation pays, and for a service as simple as this it isn’t very expensive to implement.

Registration is pretty easy. Users can sign-up to Ask.fm via Facebook, Twitter or Vk.com (the number one social network in Russia), as well as directly. Facebook login is the most popular, says Terebin, and the site does a good job of exploiting the viral opportunities offered by tapping into the social graph. Upon creating an Ask.fm page, users are invited to alert their Facebook friends to begin soliciting questions. Answers can also be shared on the social network and Twitter.

I asked Terebin if in June 2010 when the company was first founded, he and his co-founders set out deliberately to clone Formspring – and he was very candid in his answer.

“Yes, we cloned the idea“, he says. “It seemed just genius to us. But we saw things that could be made better. We took the decision to make Ask.fm because we saw lots of weak sides [that] Formspring has.”

What those weaknesses are, Terebin wouldn’t really elaborate. When pushed he says that simplicity is the key — the company’s office displays a version of the Albert Einstein quote “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler” — while Ask.fm allows questions to be posted anonymously too in an age where more and more sites insist that users register using their real identity.

Revenue-wise, the company makes money through banner ads and Google Adsense, along with 15% of revenue coming via virtual gifts. Related to ads, the company says it’s seeing 2.28 billion page views per-month as of last month.

One question that Terebin was unable to answer, however, is how the startup is funded. He did reveal that they took VC funding in January this year, but from whom and how much, he won’t or can’t say. That’s a little curious since, on virtually any of the big numbers, Terebin is more than willing to talk.

Disclaimer: Until February this year, I was CEO of Q&A startup Beepl (where I’m still a minority shareholder), although we all know how that worked out for me. I’m no longer involved with the operation of the company.