I started using Aardvark per Ben’s suggestion, and I’m liking it quite a bit.
Aardvark is a different kind of search engine—a social one. You tell Aardvark what topics you know about, and it learns which questions to ask you, usually over IM (firstname.lastname@example.org on GChat). Ask questions about anything. A sampling of mine that have had good results:
- Q: What’s the most accurate geolocation (IP -> city, country) service? (A: Maxmind)
- Q: I know Mozilla’s Developer Center has pretty good JS reference, but where is the best HTML reference online? (A: Google Doctype ain’t bad)
- Q: What academic degree is abbreviated “P”? (I see someone’s signature is of the form “Jane Doe, P ‘12”) (A: Apparently, Parents of current students use this in some letters and append their kid’s graduating year. Come on now.)
When you’re asked a question, you see who asked it, where they’re from, and if you have any mutual friends. Aardvark figured out that when you’re asked questions about stuff you like to talk about, by people you want to help, you’re not being interrupted—you’re coming to the rescue. The answers are highly asynchronous (on the order of minutes instead of Google’s milliseconds), but if you’re asking Aardvark, you either want a human answer, or have exhausted your Google-fu.
I listened to this iinovate interview (a blog I finally felt vindicated for following) with the founders, and was interested to hear how the creators rigorously tested every aspect of the product, settling on IM as the most personal form of communication. They found that as soon “Aardvark” appeared in a chat window, people started treating it like a human instead of a machine (the intended result).
There’s quite a future for social search. The questions you ask of a product like Aardvark are different, but no less important than the Google queries you make. I’m reminded of the most insightful thing Mark Zuckerberg (the man you love to hate) ever said:
At the heart of it, Google and Facebook are really similar. We’re both giving you information you want to know about—we’re just good at different kinds of information.
Disclaimer: This is not a direct quote, but my brain’s memory of something I believe he said. I can’t find the source, even with Google’s help. Asked Aardvark—waiting on the results…
P.S.: I can’t believe I forgot to mention it, but if you’d like to try Aardvark out, here’s an invitation link.