Innovation That Matters

Social search engine taps contacts for subjective answers

Work & Lifestyle

Traditional search engines like Google excel at finding objective information in the vast network of pages on the web, but what about when you want a local restaurant recommendation? Going far beyond general reviews or even those of twinsumers with similar tastes is a new search site that aims to get more personally relevant by asking your own extended network of friends. Users of Aardvark begin by adding the service to their email or IM buddy list, and then sending it a question in plain English via either medium. Aardvark then checks the user’s social network of participating friends and friends-of-friends to see who might be able to answer it. Friends must have signed up with Aardvark to be considered, and they can control whose questions come to them, and when. Factors taken into account by the algorithm that chooses respondents include how closely connected they are to the person with the question, what topics they know about—gleaned from profile data on Facebook and around the web—whether they have similar tastes, where they’re located and whether they’re currently available to answer. After zeroing in on a small subset of the user’s social network, Aardvark finds someone who can answer the question in real time and, within 5 minutes or so, sends their answer back to the person who asked. “If someone’s looking for a recommendation on ‘great music’ or a ‘hotel room in London’, not even 20 percent of people are going to be satisfied with a search result” from a traditional search engine, ex-Googler Max Ventilla, now Aardvark’s CEO, told BusinessWeek. Rather than objective listings or the opinions of anonymous strangers on the web—which is mostly what one gets from Google—or the highly curated yet heavily numerical answers that are generated by Wolfram|Alpha, Aardvark aims to provide advice that’s subjective and customised to the person who asked the question. San Francisco-based Aardvark requires no software download or installation; there are currently more than 10,000 users testing out a private version of the site, according to BusinessWeek. Its revenue model includes referral fees paid by companies—including Amazon and Zappos so far—when answers include a link to their sites, BW reported. Will social search provide the new way to get answers to everyday questions? It seems likely, but only time will tell. In the meantime, one to watch, partner with—or generally get in on as soon as possible! 😉 Spotted by: Diricia De Wet



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