This one completely passed me by last fall, but apparently there is a unique Social Search Engine called Aardvark that unlike traditional search engines, proclaims to find “people, not web pages that have specific information.”
Pretty interesting concept, as you might imagine – instead of using keywords to search Aardvark, like one would with Google or Bing, users ask Aardvark a question, and instead of returning “the most authoritative” web pages related to their search like Google or Bing, Aardvark connects them with other users that its engine believes can help answer their question(s). When you sign up, you tell Aardvark what topics you think you can answer questions about. Then, when a user has a question about any of those topics, Aardvark queries you and if and when you answer the question, Aardvark emails (or IMs) the user your response. So it really is connecting people to people, as opposed to connecting people to static content.
Anyways, Aardvark caught my eye this morning because as TechCrunch reports, yesterday they released findings of their study in a paper that they’ve titled, “Anatomy of a Large-Scale Social Search Engine.” The title is a play on Google’s seminal paper, “Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Search Engine,” and just like Google’s paper, Aardvarks has been accepted to the WWW2010 conference, the same conference to which Google’s paper was accepted back in 1998.
Now, whether or not Aardvark is the Google of Social Search engines remains to be seen. Its search engine is less than a year old, and is still gathering force (though it supposedly already has over 90,000 users). Still, it is a relatively novel concept and Aardvark may really have something if they continue to invest tirelessly in making (and/or keeping) their model appealing to users.
Of course, the idea of asking a community a question really isn’t that new. Users could, and undoubtedly do, ask the same questions they might ask Aardvark, on Twitter (where they could even tag their tweet with a topically relevant hashtag), Facebook or on any number of other social sites, and expect to find an answer. But the way Aardvark does it is slightly different, and it even looks at your blog posts, existing online profiles, and tweets to determine what topics you might know about, to augment its offering.
The thing Aardvark adds above other platforms is that users have already declared themselves experts on certain topics, and whenever a user (in their area) has a question about that topic, Aardvark inserts the question into that users “Answer” queue (screenshot below is just an example of a question, though I cannot confirm or disconfirm that I’ve declared myself an expert on hair gel…guess that’s what I get for listing my Hoboken, NJ location in my profile, right?).
From there, that user can answer the original users question if they know, or just leave it for someone else.
As for how well it works, I cannot say. I myself just signed up for an account today, and haven’t really had the time to give it any kind of rigorous test. Nevertheless, if you’d like to know more about what Aardvark’s engine does or the data it discovered and is publishing in its paper, I encourage you to check out TechCrunch’s report (mentioned earlier), and/or Aardvark’s own blog post (also linked to earlier) for further specifics.
Oh, and as always, feel free to add any other insights you may have in the comments.
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