Aardvark: Where Search Engines Meet Social Media

Remember when the only way to get recommendations for restaurants or stores to go to was to ask a friend and hope they’ve heard something?  Now with search engine/social media crossover services like Aardvark you can expand your circle of recommendation givers to anyone viewing the site.

With Aardvark, users can submit a question via vark.com, Facebook, Twitter, AIM, Google Chat, or MSN Chat.  Recently released is an iPhone app (available for free in the App Store) that will let users submit questions, answer questions asked, and check out what your friends asked.  Aardvark relies heavily on IM services (and Push Notifications on the iPhone) to let you know when an answer to your question has been given, or if it thinks you’d be a good candidate to answer a question.  In your profile, you can set the topics that you’d like to answer questions about and the site will specifically recommend that you answer questions in those topics.  If you link your Aardvark account with your Facebook account, it will take into consideration your listed activities, interests, and groups and automatically tag you as willing to answer questions on that topic.  For example, Aardvark tagged me with: Computer Programming, Databases, SUNY Albany, and Video Games.

I mostly use Aardvark through AIM.  I’d say I get somewhere around 4-5 IMs a day from Aardvark with questions that are related to my tagged topics.  Some of them I didn’t know anything about (like Ruby on Rails) and Aardvark gave me an option of responding with “pass” if I didn’t have an answer, and in turn respond with “mute” to cease being asked comments about that topic.

"Does anyone have any recommendations for vegetarian eating in Albany, NY?"

My first search on Aardvark

Frustrations with a Growing Social Media Experiment

One of Aardvark’s claims is that it typically finds answers for questions within 5 minutes.  With my first test question (seen to the left), I didn’t really get any good feedback.  It took ten hours for me to get one reply, and it didn’t answer my question.  The answer I got talked about vegetarian restaurants in Ithaca, NY…a good 3-hour drive from Albany.

The downside of this is that the Aardvark notifications can get somewhat annoying.  Sometimes I’ll get replies saying “Thanks for answering the question” an hour or two after replying.  Not only that, but if I don’t reply to a question, I will get an IM five minutes later saying “Sorry, I missed you.  Can you answer this question?”  Somewhat tedious, but I can deal with it; thankfully, there’s an option to respond “busy” and it won’t message you for a few hours.

What’s in store for the future of Search Engines?

Could this be what the next big thing is on the web?  I really think it could be, and I’m pulling for it.  But at the same time, it could just be a flop if not enough people participate.  I suppose the same can be true of Facebook and Twitter, that if there wasn’t a huge social backing then they would have flopped.  But can Aardvark co-exist in a world with Facebook and Twitter?

As I said, I’d like it to, but my hopes and dreams might not come true; It’s got a lot to compete against.  Between hashtags and trending topics on Twitter, and groups and message boards on Facebook, is the social media-search engine hybrid already at its saturation point?  I suppose it’s good to have another option, but how many options are too many options?

Final Words

Having only been public since March 2009, Aardvark is still in its infancy, but with its awesome Facebook integration, its time in the limelight might come sooner than later.  I can’t predict the future, but I can certainly try to influence people to try out a new website.  So give Aardvark a shot: sign up, ask questions, answer some questions, and let me know if you’ve found any great vegetarian options in Albany!