Google announced on Friday that it had acquired Aardvark, a “unique technology company that lets you quickly and easily tap into the knowledge and experience of your friends and extended network of contacts.” Social Q&A? Anyway, once Aardvark was bought it was put into Google Labs, hopefully with comfortable quarters and hay or gingersnaps or whatever it is aardvarks consume.
Before you try this out, you’ll have to register. The front page gives you a giant box to ask a question, but you actually can’t ask anything until you register. You have to give your name, birthday, city/state, and gender. You have the option to register via Facebook and import all your data, but that made me a bit leery so I skipped it. Once you’re registered you’re asked to supply areas of expertise so you can answer questions as well as ask them.
Once I was registered, I decided on a quick question. (Even though I had yet to build up a network of friends on Aardvark, I could immediately start asking questions. That’s a great point in Aardvark’s favor; other social-type networks are not useful until you’ve built up your own group.) So I asked: What’s a good Web-based app for using Twitter? I have one and use and quite like, but I’m always interested in learning about others. I asked it and then waited. Four minutes later, I got my first answer: “http://www.twitter.com”.
Ah. Thanks, wiseguy. But then a couple minutes later the first respondent amended his answer to include three different suggestions, and in 13 minutes I had four suggestions that included five different suggestions (plus another wiseguy who recommended Twitter.com.) Aardvark e-mails you when someone answers your questions, or you can watch the answers come in on your question page. Once you’ve received an answer, you can mark it as helpful or not. You can also respond to the answer, or just send a generic “Thanks!” You can also check the profiles of people who answered your question, and request to add them to your network.
And of course you can also answer questions. I went and looked at the questions relevant to me, but couldn’t answer them (most of them were about Google Buzz.) You also have the option to answer “Open” questions. I paged through those (I could only see about fifteen at a time) and they varied from asking opinions to needing software help to obvious “homework” type questions to very specific questions about technical and medical issues. I finally found one I could answer and did. I did not get a response from the gentleman who asked at this writing, but as he had asked the question six hours before I was not surprised.
I like this. It reminds me somewhat of Yahoo Answers but the questions are better (more serious.) It reminds me even more of Google Answers, a late, much-lamented service offered by Google (it was shut down over three years ago.) I do see three problems with it, however. First is you cannot access the full list of open questions. Second, there’s no way to conduct what I believe my librarian friends call the “reference interview.” Often I found myself looking at a question and thinking, “I need more data before I can answer this,” or “It depends…” The third, and most problematic of all, is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to search an archive of collected questions and answers, which seems like a tremendous waste. I mean, here you are with a whole community dedicated to asking and answering questions, and you’re not aggregating and archiving the results? Isn’t there a way to search all the questions and answers?
Well, I mean besides searching Google for inurl:vark.com/t/ and adding the keywords in which you’re interested.
Despite that I really like Aardvark. It’ll be interesting to see how Google integrates it into their search tools. I would love to see it as the basis for a new Google Answers.