<update> Aardvark made me an Aardvocate in August 2010. Not that I needed an excuse to promote their incredible product. Regardless, my shameless peddling has increased exponentially </update>
In February 2010 Aardvark was acquired by Google. Right now you are saying “Who? What is an Aardvark? Why are your telling me this?” Next you are probably wondering if a whole new dictionary is going to pop out of this with “Getting Aardvark-ed” replacing “Facebooked”, “Tweeted” or “Googled” as the 2010 trend amongst in-the-know geeks. I suppose it could happen, but lets not get ahead of ourselves…
So, what is Aardvark?
There is no question that people’s search queries are going more long tail ie. people are using more specific and lengthier queries in their searches. The problem is that as we move to longer and more complex search terms, the search engines are having difficulties finding the right answer to a more specific and narrow topic.
Do you sense opportunity? Aardvark did! The web app is a really neat way of finding answers to difficult questions that search engines or Twitter struggle to answer. For example. Have you ever wondered (like I have!) whether it would be better to pair a honey or maple ham with blue cheese? Try finding the answer with Google. Go ahead, I will wait!
If you are like me, you probably searched “honey maple ham blue cheese” or some variation of that and ended up with some sort of recipe that combined ham and cheese. Not the response we were looking for.
Lets go and ask Aardvark:
Google, Facebook and Twitter all realize that the web is becoming increasingly social. Even more so, I am convinced that this trend is irreversible. Human nature dictates that we will self-organize into Tribes with social, economic or topical boundaries. (Check out Tribes by Seth Godin, for some great reading on the subject). As we become more socially intertwined online, we start to place more value on our online social relationships. We trust people and products with more social proof. Think about the last time you purchased a product online, did you at least go to Amazon to check the reviews? I know I did, and those user ratings all but made the purchasing decision for me.
So what happens in the back end on Aardvark? Through a network of IM and Facebook, Aardvark has gone out and found people that have self-selected as experts on certain subjects and joined a ‘Tribe’ of respondents. For my question, the respondents are experts on “gourmet food”. Aardvark will contact those qualified people on my behalf and solicit a response. Not everyone will answer every question. However, nearly 90% of questions get answered and the median answer time is somewhere around 5 mins… Our first response from India blew that out of the water!
“HONEY AND MAPLE SYRUP — Honey has long been used as a pairing with cheese. Its viscosity blends well with creamier cheeses and its natural sweetness is an ideal contrast to salty cheeses. For a similar but updated pairing, try pure maple syrup.”
That is NOT a Google response. Thanks Nashville! Even though, that is not really an answer, but you seem to know your stuff!)
The reason that Aardvark works (and the reason they were acquired by Google) is because of a hole in Google’s knowledge base. There is a huge amount of information locked up in individuals. Information that search engines and other people in the world would love to have access to. Information that people would love to share. Aardvark aims to directly connect the people who have this knowledge to people who need the knowledge. That is a powerful idea.
However, there is no financial transaction… so where is the revenue model? Well, I am sure the acquisition helped make a couple millionaires on the Aardvark team! Post-acquisition, look for Google to fold this technology or something similar into their search results. Not in the immediate future, because the results are still very green. But there is certainly a trend in this direction. Hence, Aardvark will be another means for Google to get people the right information, the first time, quickly. And that will only grow Google’s revenue base as more people online, means more 4-line ads for people to click on.
“depends on your mood but i would choose the ham, maybe with a honey dressing”… Ok, so something was lost in translation there. But thankfully, Aardvark has follow-up questions!)
Aardvark has managed to make a mini-tribe around the noble subject of Ham and Cheese. I had three people from three different continents helping me. For no financial reward. And I was given personalized responses that would make the most competent search engine jealous. No wonder Google took an interest (and huge stake) in Aardvark…
The story of Aardvarks inception was a brilliant example of “lean startup tactics” in full use and deserves its own post. I had the opportunity to watch Aardvark’s founders Damon Horowitz and Max Ventilla speak during April’s Start Up Lessons Learned Conference and it was certainly inspirational to see a group of people make a product like Aardvark a reality. More on that to follow!
The Future of Search
If there is one uncontested fact about Google, its this equation –>
The pentacle UX for search is getting people the info they want before they know they need it…
A user comes to Google.com with a question about mortgages:
But lets suppose the user clicks on a couple of the results and doesn’t find what they are looking for. There is the first hint of frustration as the “stupid search engine” isn’t giving them what they want. But this is an important question, so the user dutifully puts a spin on their original search query and comes up with the following variation:
Despite some promising results, the user still does not find what they are looking for. Frustration is at full creep, the user starts thinking, “Didn’t Microsoft do something called Ring? Or was it Bing? Yeah, like Chandler! God, I miss Friends…” The user is lost. But we are not lost in regards to the User’s mindset. We can safely assume the following:
2. They are not getting the best possible user experience. Is it like baseball and three strikes and you are out?
Which leads us to the following UI on our user’s third attempt:
The point is that when users are totally dedicated to finding the right information, the best UX for Google is to provide that information. If Google does not have the right information for the user in their index, they need to find it somewhere else. Otherwise, users are going to start exploring alternatives on their own… “Monica and Chandler made such a cute couple… I think I am going to give Microsoft another chance…” Aardvark is a possible solution, which is a big reason Google made this acquisition.
But before we go too far back to the future, how about you share your experiences with Aardvark?
Have you had an amazing success with Aardvark?
Do you see any other unique uses for the technology (perhaps in Medicine for doctors to share amongst themselves on a diagnosis or for pilots to get up to the minute weather forecasting from planes in front of them on popular air routes?)
What question would you ask Aardvark?
Let us all know in the comments below!