Bing has made quite a splash branding itself as a decision engine. You type in a question or topic, you get results that are, at least in my limited experience, more closely related to what you’re looking for than other search engines. But where Bing might miss by casting such a wide net, a tool that has been around a few months called Aardvark is trying to capitalize on with a small, very purposed one.

Aardvark (http://vark.com) essentially allows you to ask a question. Instead of searching the whole web for an answer, the service connects to people touching your social graph to find answers. Instead of relying on a search engine algorithm, you’re asking people you know. Using instant messenger, email and Twitter, users can ask questions and get answers back from other users. The first one I posted was to ask someone if they found Aardvark useful. Within minutes, I got an answer from a young lady in California who really liked the service but was still new to it. Turns out she is a couple degrees separation from me through LinkedIn contacts.

Aardvark Chat SessionRunning another test, I IM’d the Aardvark engine a question about webinar solutions. What cheap and even white label type solutions are best in class? No longer than two minutes later, I had a response from a contact, also in California, recommending WebEx because of its robust user base which would indicate bugs and what-not have been vetted. Within 10 minutes, I received recommendations for Elluminate and DimDim from other users as well, one response included an indication that the person answering was connected to me through Warren Whitlock. I’m assuming that one degree of separation responses, thus, indicate who connects you.

Intrigued by the utility, I reached out to Aardvark CEO Max Ventilla to explore some technical and business questions I had. After that conversation, I like the tool even more.

The default settings for new users means you will only be contacted to answer questions once or twice a day, so it’s not intrusive to be a resource to the community. You can change those settings to your liking. Users can ask as many questions of the community they like. There has to be some supply and demand math there that might cause there to be not enough answers for questions some day, but math makes my head hurt. If you are a math person, ponder and let us know in the comments how that might turn out.

The service ties into your social graph however you’d like it to. You can use Facebook Connect, Twitter or other services to give Aardvark permission to see who your friends are. It only reaches out to those friends who have signed up and doesn’t spam people. If you want to invite your friends to use it, you can, of course. And Facebook Connect places your use of Aardvark in your news stream for all to see.

Ventilla declined to reveal user numbers, but I could see this community resource of community resources being very popular if they can overcome a couple of environmental factors working against them:

  • People are conditioned to search for answers on search engines when they’re on a computer. Remembering there’s a social connection solution to find answers from friends dictates a change in behavior for the user. Anytime you’re trying to change behavior, it’s an uphill battle.
  • Posting your question on Twitter is probably just as easy and you’ll get more responses. While the answers will be random and not from someone who has indicated an interest in a particular topic (one way Aardvark routes questions), it’s likely you can find a good response just as fast.
  • Advertisers can try to game the system and become the qualified answer supplier for various categories.

While the advertising scenario isn’t likely, it would be a concern of mine. Those with ulterior motives have gamed their way to the top influencer positions on social news sites. Why wouldn’t this be different?

When I asked Ventilla about the possibility of advertisers getting involved and how that reflects itself in any revenue model they might have, he was prepared:

“People that are commercial entities would have to label themselves as commercial answerers and they would get certain additional capabilities or tools as such,” he said. “We want brands, companies and professionals to be able to answer questions in a parallel fashion to how actual friends and friends-of-friends can answer questions. This is still a work in progress but at scale we feel we can support many different motivations for answering while addressing spam, brand and user experience issues that will inevitably arise.”

He also said when people recommend an item to purchase, Aardvark can link to sites where you can buy the product and get affiliate payments for conversions they deliver. Another revenue opportunity might revolve around lead generation for larger scale products and services. He was clear to delineate that brokering those kinds of business-to-consumer connections would dictate transparency in letting the user know it was from a commercially biased source but there is real utility in the answer, much like Google AdWords.

The tool certainly puts a new spin on social search, but is, at its core a recommendation and referral engine. Still, the seamlessness of the tool and easy communication bridges from Twitter to IM to email for users makes it wholly useful and a tool with some potential. The only thing that might make it better is if you could choose which friends you ask questions of … but then again, that’s takes some of the seamless experience out of the tool.

Go sign up and give it a try. Tell us what you think of the experience in the comments.

And I’m not the first person to talk about this tool. Check out the related links below for some good insight from others.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.SocialMediaCommando.com JoeMescher

    Aardvark is a cool utility, although until now I've mostly been doing the answering instead of asking for help.

    Tip: include specific link URL's directing people to the answer they seek. Even though it's crowdsourcing, this practice helps you stand out from the pack.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Nice tip, Joe. Thanks for that.

  • http://vark.com/ Alison

    Jason, thanks for the great article. :) You made many well-thought-out points, and as Max said, we're implementing several measures to deal with some of the challenges you brought to light. I'd love to hear from you and your readers with any other feedback you have.

    - Alison @ Aardvark
    alison@aardvarkteam.com

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks, Alison. I'm sure more will continue to chime in. Thanks for the work you do.

  • http://twitter.com/AzamKhan AzamKhan

    This is great. I think Aardvark has a real opportunity here. A few years back I always wondered how a system like this could exist. Although I was as tech-savvy as Helen Keller would be at America's Best Dance Crew, I realized there's a huge opportunity for systems like this – but more with niches in mind. I had no resources nor was the social web ready for something like this so I could never act on it.

    Since I would like to see this go to fruition, I'll just describe it right here.

    Imagine you're a high school student or a college student. You have no clue what you wanna do or maybe some clue. You ask your friends and all you hear is 'well im gonna be a lawyer', 'im gonna be a doctor'. What do you do?

    This is a core issue for many people that people at Aardvark can start (or if you wanna provide the back-end I could help ;)

    The ideal situation would be this. As a student I'd wanna know all the different types of professions I can get into based on what my network or my network's network has done. If I am a biology student and focusing on biochemistry, I should be able to see what others that also did a biochem focus are now doing and be able to connect with them, IF they are willing to be a resource. There could be some incentives added to being a resource but that's not worth delving into right now.

    It's like distributed intelligence. I'd say step this model up a notch higher. Instead of me just connecting to 1 person on a 1v1 conversation, I should also be able to speak with many people at a time and they should be able to be resources at the time I need them. The value of each contact should change based on my own progression. If for example after doing a focus on biochem I start shifting more towards marketing, then the people I should be talking to should also shift. There would be an algorithm that would define the value of a network contact based on that person's: willing to be a resource, activity level / responsiveness, how many others found their advice helpful on aggregate, and perhaps some kind of success level (this is subjective).

    It would be like LinkedIn mixed with Aardvark with a twist (because instead of just asking questions and getting answers, you'd want to keep in touch). Whoever tackles this, let me know. It'd be amazing to have a tool like this.

    Of course, i'm guessing Aardvark is going to have niche sub communities. the big challenge seems in adequately rewarding contributors and resources. I'd maybe suggest checking out principles of Amy Jo Kim's Game Mechanics to make this an overall engaging experience.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Awesome ideas, Azam. You're right, Aardvark can certainly start down that road. I sure hope you can find a developer to mash your idea up with some technology. Nice work. Thanks for sharing.

  • Joshanderson

    Those are very good tools, however, in many cases those platforms are used just to allow the team to review the same document together in real-time and “be on the same page”.
    The recently launched free site http://www.showdocument.com does exactly that, document sharing and web meeting for friends and colleagues.
    It allows co-browsing on any document, user uploads a document and invites friends to view it with him live
    All the participants in the session see each others' drawing, highlights, etc.

    Josh

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Nice try Josh. This tool has nothing to do with document sharing. I don't mind folks pointing out good tools, even if it's their own, so I'm going to leave your comment up. But this is crossing the line into spam in my opinion. Thanks for the link. Find more relevant ways to communicate in the future, please.

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