ChatGPT is a remarkable piece of technology and a really crappy consumer product. Load OpenAI’s revolutionary chatbot at any given time, and after a long wait, you’ll be greeted with… well, likely as not, a message saying ChatGPT is over capacity and you can’t use it anyway. It’s slow even in the best of situations, and its blocky white-and-gray interface doesn’t exactly scream high design. There’s not even a mobile app.
Adam D’Angelo, the CEO of Quora, sees that as something of an opportunity. Since last summer, just before the chatbot craze swept the tech industry, Quora has been feverishly working on an app called Poe that D’Angelo says he hopes can make bots easier for everyone to use by bringing them all in one place. “We have a lot of different things we want to build on top of this technology,” he says. “But the starting point is just, let’s make it easy for people to use it.”
The way D’Angelo sees it, we’re only at the beginning of a huge boom in interactive bots. Right now, there’s Bard and Bing and ChatGPT and not much else, but pretty soon, there will be hundreds, thousands, or even millions of different bots for different purposes. And for almost any company that isn’t a tech giant, “the amount of work it takes to make a high-quality chat experience is just too much.” Google and Microsoft have the resources to do it, of course, and I’d bet you won’t see either in Poe anytime soon. But there’s a whole industry of bot startups still to come, including from Poe itself: Quora just announced a user-created bots feature that lets you build your own bot to talk like a pirate, roast you mercilessly, or teach you Japanese.
D’Angelo compares Poe’s ambitions to a web browser: rather than require every service to have and maintain its own full-stack app on every platform, he hopes developers can build bots and trust that users can find them through Poe. “So we hope that by bringing down the barrier to creating a good user experience we will enable this explosion of applications,” D’Angelo says.
Early on, Quora investigated using generative AI tools to answer questions on Quora itself — D’Angelo says he’s been thinking about AI stuff for years, and as a board member at OpenAI, he saw the chatbot explosion coming sooner than most. (Though, he says, even he — and even OpenAI — was surprised at just how big it got.)
After doing some testing, AI Quora answers didn’t feel right yet. “It can often generate pretty good answers,” D’Angelo says, “but it usually can’t generate as good an answer as the best person on Quora writing an answer.” So then the team asked: when could these pretty good answers be most useful? When they’re really, really fast. “It’s when you need an answer almost immediately, or when you want to be able to go back and forth with the person — the AI, in this case — writing the answer.” So rather than force AI conversations into Quora, the company decided to launch it as a separate product.
Right now, if you download the Poe app on iOS (Android’s apparently coming soon) or go to poe.com, you’re dropped into what looks like a messaging app. On the right: an empty chat window with a handful of suggestions at the top — “Try asking me about Writing Help/Cooking/Fun Stuff” and such — and a text box at the bottom. On the left: six different bots, each of which you can interact with inside of Poe.
Poe offers access to ChatGPT and GPT-4; Claude Plus and Claude Instant, two different bots from Anthropic; Sage, also based on ChatGPT; and Dragonfly, a model using a different method than the rest. You can chat with any of the six bots as if you’re flipping between conversations with different friends. It’s not a free-for-all, though — you get one free message to GPT-4 and three to Claude per day, though you can subscribe to Poe’s $19.99 a month Pro service and increase the cap that way. (Bot subscriptions are also a big part of Poe’s long-term plan — the plan sounds a bit like Apple’s App Store revenue split.)
In my testing so far, the differences between the six bots are relatively minor. Poe’s documentation recommends using Claude Instant over Claude Plus for creative writing, but Claude Plus is better for complex tasks. Sage and ChatGPT are better at non-English languages, and Dragonfly “tends to give shorter responses.” But for now, all are more or less general purpose chatbots, and it’s on you to pick which one you use. And realistically, D’Angelo says, GPT-4 is pretty much just the best at everything.
But over time, he’s betting that there will be many bots for many purposes, each trained with a specific function in mind or developed to process a certain kind of information. In that future, Poe becomes a sort of Swiss Army knife for AI tools. “We want to get into recommending the right button for the right task,” he says. “If I’m doing programming, what are the best bots to help with that? If I’m doing writing, what’s the best for that?”
In terms of the answers you’ll get, talking to, say, ChatGPT through Poe is no different than through OpenAI’s app
In terms of the answers you’ll get, talking to, say, ChatGPT through Poe is no different than through OpenAI’s app. And you shouldn’t come to Poe looking for web search or current information — Poe doesn’t have web links or citations in its answers, though it does link certain terms that you can click on as another way of asking for information. (Click on the Cincinnati Reds in an answer about the 1972 World Series, for instance, and it processes that as “tell me more about Cincinnati Reds.”) D’Angelo says he’s hoping bots will quickly become more grounded in reality over time, and for Poe especially, he hopes to use Quora data to do so, but that’s still a ways out.
Still, for day-to-day AI chat and content generation, Poe’s my favorite chatbot app yet. It’s really fast, for one thing. It’s also much nicer to type into a mobile app than into ChatGPT’s wonky website. I like the white-on-black aesthetic of the app’s dark mode and the fact that it syncs all my chats across devices. My only real gripe is that the app is really busy: it’s always offering suggestions of what to type and people to follow, which often just gets in the way of seeing my chats. But it’s the most native-feeling AI messaging app I’ve found.
Poe’s mobile app also has an interesting Feed feature, which you can use to share a prompt and response from one of the bots. So far, my feed is mostly just people sharing bots’ silly poems and pseudo-deep thoughts about the world, but the idea of public conversations is an intriguing one. It’s also, by the way, where Poe starts to feed back into Quora: if these bot conversations can begin to generate useful and new information and users can decide that information is worth sharing, that output might be pretty valuable.
For his part, D’Angelo isn’t sure what will work and what won’t. And he thinks anyone who is sure, is wrong. “Nobody knows anything, because the technology hasn’t been around for long and we haven’t had time to experiment. But also, nobody knows anything because it’s changing so fast.” He says his team can really only plan about a week at a time — zoom out any longer, and everything changes by the time your planning meeting’s over. There are big questions about safety and data usage to answer, too, but D’Angelo says he’s confident that the good already vastly outweighs the bad.
The AI land grab is still very much on, and it’s not guaranteed that many companies will cede this part of the ecosystem to Poe or anything like it. Vertical integration remains everyone’s favorite way to make a fortune. But D’Angelo thinks he has a shot. “If you’re Microsoft, and you’re making Bing, you’ll just make that effort and make your product on all platforms,” he says. “But almost anyone else? I think we can provide a lot of value by letting them write on all this work that we’ve done.” Building AI is hard enough, he argues — so he’s hoping you’ll let Poe do the rest.
Correction April 10, 2023 1:00PM: This story has been updated to correctly say Poe’s Sage chatbot is based on ChatGPT, not GPT 2 as we previously wrote. We regret the error. We’ve also added information about Quora’s new user-created bots feature.