Mechanical Hype, revisited

aardvarkAs I wrote previously, I really like the idea behind Aardvark (previously known as Mechanical Zoo) and it’s a great social Q&A tool, but it simply is notsocial search” (and unlike TechCrunch,  RWW realize that). The Aardvark team still pushes with that terminology, I guess for a good reason given the financial climate, and disperses more of it in a white paper. Once they actually start searching in their aggregated Q&A repository to provide you with an available answer without bothering your network – that would become more of a search solution, rather than Q&A.

Having played with the product a bit, I also see an inherent flaw in the social premise here. Aardvark provides me with answers from friends, or friends-of-friends. Now, it’s more likely I’ll get answers from friends-of-friends, as there are simply a lot more of them. However, these would be people who don’t know me, and will not provide a personal answer that is tailored to my own individual needs.

Still, it’s a great way to make new friends. Not kidding – Aardvark strongly drives conversations, as Danny Sullivan also pointed out, and since this friend-of-friend was the one who responded to my question, I’d feel more comfortable discussing further. Presumably Aardvark will also track this, and practically add this person to my direct social graph.


Update: Max Ventilla of Aardvark commented in my previous post that indexing your graph and finding the right person to answer your query has, in fact, the ingredients of social search. He has a point there, but still that search ends in finding a person, not information, so it’s more of a people search. Still, I agree that in executing this task, the varkers face similar difficulties to those we faced in Delver, albeir on much smaller scale.

2 responses to “Mechanical Hype, revisited

  1. Ofer, I actually agree with you on not calling Aardvark “social search” — it really is a [personalized] question-answer service. At the same time, there is not one agreed-upon version of “social search” that I’ve come across yet. Everyone who dabbles in this area thinks their solution is a social search one, when in practice, there are lots of (acceptable) definitions.

    What matters is how it’s used and what the service promises to be. It’s true that friends-of-friends might not know you, so they may not provide as personalized of a response as your direct friends could. However, I’ve been told by the Aardvark crew that people answer WAY more questions than they ask, and that one of their primary requests from users is to be given more questions to answer! (This makes me think that a Wikipedia-type model is at work here.)

    I also agree that one of their biggest drawbacks is that there is no way to search over previously asked questions. Even then, though, the database will likely be limited to inherently subjective questions that pertain to immediate information needs of users that might not be applicable a week or a month from when the question was asked. Obviously, this is fully dependent on the type of questions being asked and indexed.

    What’s particularly interesting to me is that Delver & Aardvark have two complimentary styles of “social search” — and from my latest research, I see good reason to have both models play an active role in web search. Maybe you guys should team up! 🙂

    • Hi Brynn,
      I know I’m being a bit harsh on those Varkers, it’s just that knowing what a major feat it is to set up a true robust search engine, I’m kind of sensitive to the “abuse” of the term. “Search“, in web/software products, has very clear definition and methodology.

      I think the Wikipedia-type model, if evolves, is dangerous for Aardvark. It will lead them to become ChaCha, and that’s already taken and, well, not massively successful. Myself and everyone around me who also try it out, keep sending the “try” command to get questions, mostly for curiosity but also because many questions are simply not relevant (e.g. tons of irrelevant local questions).

      So I would think they should proceed with the original idea and work to deepen each user’s social graph acquisition and refining, and focus on improving the experience for friend-of-friend communication (who is this person? why did I get their question??)

      Search – I’m sure they will get to that soon, as FriendFeed did, first they want to accumulate data and learn its patterns. Complimentary – you’re right :-)…

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