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.
Running 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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- Aardvark Open For Business Via Facebook Connect (Techcrunch)
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