Aardvark Burrows Out Of Beta

I just received an email from Max Ventilla, CEO of social search startup Aardvark, to let me know that Aardvark is now open to anyone who wants to sign up. Well, anyone with a Facebook account–but I can’t imagine that there are many people who are curious to sign up for a service like Aardvark but don’t already have Facebook accounts!

Apparently Michael Arrington got the email too. But Aardvark’s larger PR coup is a feature in the Business section of the Sunday New York Times, entitled “Now All Your Friends Are in the Answer Business“.

I’ve blogged about Aardvark a bit–see my previous pair of posts about the blog + Twitter vs. Aardvark challenge. I like the idea of expert-mediated information seeking, though I have at least two concerns with Aardvark.

The first is in how Aardvark routes questions to experts–I’ve had mixed results that I attribute to the inherent challenge of inferring a topic through natural language processing. I think Aardvark would to well to offer guidance to users both in volunteering their own areas of expertise and in specifying their query topics.

The second is that questions and answers are private. I’m a big fan of “when in doubt, make it public“–and this is a clear-cut case where public is at least the right default. I’m curious how often people ask questions that someone else has already answered. Yes, there’s something to be said about getting an answer from someone in your own social network. But I don’t see any reason that the correspondence has to be private–especially for a question that you’re willing to have routed to a total stranger.

I hope Aardvark addresses both of these concerns, improving its routing and publishing question-answer pairs. As I’ve mentioned in recent posts, I think social search deserves a lot more attention than real-time search, and it’s great to see startups like Aardvark and Hunch working on it.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

5 replies on “Aardvark Burrows Out Of Beta”

Some years ago, I was part of a “research project” to build something like this, using rule engines and RDF. I left the project because I did not see it as very practical.

It strikes as even less practical as a business.

But then, again, I would not have invested in Google.


Actually, it strikes me as one of the better candidates for an ad-supported business if you can get people to use it. It’s all people-powered except for maintaining the infrastructure, and may offer far better targeting than general web search.

But that is a very big if. Getting people to use a service like this instead of a general web search engine won’t be easy, even if they do everything right.


Alison Johnston, community manager at Aardvark, wrote me an email to address the concerns I raised in this post, and I reproduce it here with her permission:

1. Our routing algorithm is constantly improving the more people use Aardvark, so you will only see it get better. Just so you know, if you see an issue, you can also retag any question topic, but typing “tag: ” followed by the desired topic.

2. We are currently in the middle of user testing to find the best balance between public and private. We’ve received a wide variety of feedback from users–everywhere from wanting every question to be searchable to not even wanting questions stored on personal profile pages or in Aardvark database. Your feedback on this issue is helpful and will definitely be taken into account.


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