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Buy Local: When Nerds Collide

cody brown and kate ray Buy Local: When Nerds CollideNYU media grads turned start-up kids Cody Brown and Kate Ray just launched a thing called Nerd Collider, a white-label site for discussing specific things with specific people. Similar to Quora, Nerd Collider nests responses with some comments hidden by default; it also has a voting system and requires Twitter authentication like the Q&A site.

Mr. Brown and Ms. Ray had been working on Kommons, a site that uses Twitter to pressure public figures to answer questions. You pose a question to a specific person and others “back” it so your target can’t ignore it as easily. Of course, this only works if enough people are using Kommons–which right now, they aren’t–and the pair has been talking about pivoting the idea.

“We built multiple iterations of a site with a scaling open platform mindset and watched many others in the space,” Mr. Brown writes. “What we found was that helping a specific community talk to each other (like the Silicon Valley startup scene) is a manageable challenge with clear objectives—helping multiple communities talk to each other is substantially more difficult because it requires a lot of personal attention.

“So instead of fighting that we’ve created a design that’s flexible—one that allows us to create a unique environment for a particular discussion. We can customize who can participate in a discussion, the weight certain people have in that discussion, the length of time it’s open, the design of the prompt/invites, rewards for specific actions, and contextual data on the people participating.”

Nerd Collider is aiming to be a salon, like Quora, but with a few twists. They’ve put some more thought into how the design can stimulate discussion. The first question includes a quote from Harry Potter and a TED video of MIT researcher Deb Roy talking about he had cameras installed in his house. Then comes the prompt, like on the S.A.T.: “If you could record yourself in the same way that Deb Roy recorded his son, would you do it?”

The site has a couple bugs right now, but the design is simpler and more intuitive compared to Quora, which seems to get more complicated all the time. The creators of the discussion invite specific people to answer, who then have just one vote to cast on a response they like. Quora collects unanswered questions (arguably the site’s biggest fault right now), encourages users to spend time on the site and relies on search traffic as well as email notifications to get users on the site, just like all the Q&A sites that came before it.

But Nerd Collider will be a collection of discussions curated by users who will take care of asking the question, finding intelligent people to answer it and nudging the discussion along. “Nerd Collider is a platform-publication hybrid—we’ve built a discussion app designed to be customized by editors,” Mr. Brown said.

Buy Local highlights apps, websites and hacks recently released by New Yorkers either as start-ups or side projects. Made something like that? Get @ us on Twitter.

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com