Services & Software

Aardvark emerges: Social search that works

This is social search the way it should be: fast, relevant, and easy.

Nothing against Google or any other big search engine, but I think my friends are smarter than the rest of the world. When I want advice on a restaurant, a product I'm thinking of buying, or where to take my kid on a rainy Saturday, it's my circle of contacts I want that info from. That's social search, and I think it's got a big future. I've covered a few interesting products in that space, and today I'm looking at another one that's rolling out during SXSW: Aardvark.

Aardvark is social search meets instant messaging, which is a clever marriage. You send a query to Aardvark via your instant-messenger client. The system figures out which people in your network (friends and friends of friends) might be able to answer it for you, sends them messages, and then forwards you the replies.

Aardvark does a good job of find people to answer your questions. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

It archives everything on the Aardvark Web site, where you can also manage your friends and the topics you're interested in helping people with.

Aardvark's intelligence is the parsing and networking. It assigns categories to your natural-language queries and matches them to people who've indicated they can answer questions in them. I won't be getting fashion queries, for example, but I might get questions on places to take 2-year-olds in San Francisco. I also set it up so I only get questions when I'm online (per my IM status), so I don't get questions stacking up in my account.

In its early stage of development, it connects to AIM, GTalk, and Windows Live Messenger, but not to Yahoo IM. It also connects to Facebook. That's great--you don't have to start your Aardvark network from scratch. I found that 20 of my Facebook friends were already on Aardvark, and when I sent out my first query, I got replies back in minutes from people on that list as well as from friends of the person who invited me to Aardvark, co-founder and ex-Googler Nathan Stoll.

Who told Aardvark what I know? Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

I was impressed by the speed and quality of the answers I got back to my sample queries. Also, Aardvark expanded on the three topic areas I put down that I was knowledgeable about with several more that were accurate. I think it got them from my Facebook profile.

You could of course use Twitter to send questions to your circle of friends, but Aardvark is better, since it sends queries to friends of friends, doesn't spam all your followers with questions they may not be able to answer, and collects and organizes the replies for you. Aardvark doesn't yet work with Twitter, but that's coming, as are Yahoo IM and SMS connections.

Stoll said Aardvark will open to the public "in a few months."

See also: Fluther (review), another IM Q&A service, and Delver (review), a social-proximity-based search engine.