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Originally published June 1, 2011 at 5:35 PM | Page modified June 1, 2011 at 7:50 PM

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Sporcle website scores big with trivia quizzes

Matt Ramme started making quizzes online, other trivia enthusiasts on the Web caught on, and Ramme is now the founder of a Seattle-based trivia website with more than 500 million games played.

Seattle Times staff reporter

quotes I love Sporcle. It's the web site I visit first every day. Read more
quotes As a college student, Sporcle is my favorite way to procrastinate, because it always... Read more
quotes I love Sporcle, and recently got my parents hooked on it as well! It's got something... Read more

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It all started with "Jeopardy."

About four years ago, Matt Ramme wanted to find a way to get a higher percentage of the answers right on the daily television quiz show. He first tried using flash cards, but found it wasn't that fun.

Then he started making quizzes online, other trivia enthusiasts on the Web caught on, and Ramme is now the founder of a Seattle-based trivia website with more than 500 million games played.

Sporcle.com allows users to both take and make trivia quizzes online. The website offers more than 180,000 trivia games — available online and on mobile applications — from 15 different categories, such as geography, sports and movies.

Some of the quizzes were made by the original site creators, but they are now largely user-created.

Users can choose either to make private quizzes just for people they know or create public games that site administrators can decide to feature on the homepage.

"I think it's a way to be a distraction, but it's a distraction that people can feel good about," Ramme said. "It really makes them feel like a better, smarter person in the world. I see that definitely as something that helps set us apart" from other gaming websites.

Some quizzes are straightforward, question-and-answer type games, like the site's most popular game, where players name all 50 U.S. states in 10 minutes. Others are more interactive, such as "Billboard Songs from 2001," in which players guess song titles as they listen to an audio clip of song snippets.

Sporcle, which has offices in the Fremont neighborhood, has been a bootstrapped company since it was incorporated in 2007. It generates revenue through ads on the website and purchases on mobile apps for both iPhones and Androids. Sporcle declined to disclose sales figures.

With 14 employees in its Seattle and San Francisco offices, Sporcle is small, but the name has spread across the country. Additionally, Sporcle has picked up contributors from across the globe. The company has volunteer quiz editors in Britain, Australia and Canada.

"Another thing that's fun about the site is getting to correspond with other people from around the world that I never would have otherwise met," said Poulsbo-resident Luke Hemphill, who edits history games.

Though its audience is far-reaching, Sporcle management says the website seems to have more players from the Eastern half of the country.

Take its college players. Sporcle ranks colleges based on usage, and none of the top 25 schools on the site several weeks ago was a West Coast institution; Stanford and UCLA just missed the top-25 rank. The top three that week were the University of Maryland, Boston College and the University of Notre Dame.

Derek Pharr, Sporcle's vice president of products, noted that the size of the college plays into its ranking, but agreed there seems to be fewer players here.

"We have heard anecdotally that we seem to be bigger on the East Coast than on the West Coast," he said. "Of course we're happy to be big anywhere, but since we were formed in Seattle — our main office is in Seattle — we'd like to be a little bit more popular on this side of the states."

That's not to say that the site doesn't have local regulars.

James Callan, a 41-year-old Seattleite, has been playing games on Sporcle for about two years. He says he hasn't found anywhere else that has its volume or breadth of quizzes.

The website has "a big, broad base of stuff, and they try to spotlight a good variety of the best things, so I think that's a real strength for them," said Callan, who has been hosting pub quizzes at The Old Pequliar in Ballard more than four years."It's a fun site; that's kind of really what keeps me coming back."

Scott Steinberg, head of video-game consulting firm TechSavvy Global, said that though the site is fairly simple and low-tech, Sporcle's strong following gives it an advantage in the Internet-gaming business.

"You can get thousands of games and apps on your smartphone on demand. ... You can get thousands of games free on Facebook or social networks, and all of these aren't exactly doing wonders for loyalty," he said.

"We're seeing publishers and game creators beginning to treat games more like a service, not a product, which means it's about community-building and creating sustainable, ongoing, long-term enjoyment."

Sporcle founder Ramme said the company is looking to draw even more players by trying for more social interaction on the website, such as allowing users to play against each other.

"I think that's really where we're hoping to grow — to help us get to a billion" games played, he said.

Joanna Nolasco: 206-464-3263 or jnolasco@seattletimes.com

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