Aardvark vs. Twitter – the role of social in social search

ReadWriteWeb writes about Aardvark, a new IM-based Q&A service which raises the question about how valuable the social network is to search.

Frederic Lardinois at RWW says “Aardvark is a neat new service that lives in your IM client and which routes any question you might have to an Aardvark user who has the right expertise to answer your query. In return, Aardvark will also send you a few questions every day that fit your profile. You then decide to either answer the question or refer it to another friend. Of course, you can also always pass if you don’t know the answer.”

This is a very different sort of experience than Twitter, where you send out a question to people following you, and good Q&A may be forwarded through their networks.

Personally, I greatly prefer the Twitter model. IM is interruptive, Twitter is not. You can ignore the stream entirely, and pick up only the questions you want. With Twitter, the Q&A is interspersed with other sorts of information and conversation. A barrage of constant questions might feel more like an inquisitive pre-schooler.

With Aardvark, the questions come to you via IM, which is interruptive. I can’t imagine using that and having randome questions to answer in the middle of the day — maybe this would be fun for students and retirees. I frequently use IM and IRC, but maybe younger people who live with an open set of 8 IM chats woudn’t mind getting search questions by IM throughout the day, too.

Aardvark’s social feature feels anti-social to me. You can forward a question to a friend via IM. This is cool, since you may know exactly the right person who can answer the question. But it means that your friend also feels a social obligation to answer and feels social guilt for not answering. This is the reason I prefer Twitter questions to Linked In questions, multiplied by 1000. LinkedIn questions feel awkward because someone you know is asking you personally to respond. Twitter questions do not feel awkward because there is no obligation – if you answer you get good karma, and if not, you haven’t had to choose to ignore someone.

The Q&A opportunity in general is huge. People want questions answered and enjoy answering them. Yahoo Answers is huge. As of late 2008, Answers had nearly 150 million monthly visitors worldwide and 1.3 billion monthly page views. Yahoo Answers has a much more encyclopedia-like model, where you can search and browse for answers to questions. Aardvark is IM — does this mean that answers won’t be discoverable by others?

This real-life experiment — the Aardvark vs. Twitter models — will reveal something about the psychology of social search. Personally I’d greatly prefer Twitter, but perhaps Aardvark will find a demographic and psychographic that prefers its model.

Update: Rob Spiro of Aardvark says on Twitter that they are “definitely planning an aardvark-twitter integration, using Twitter as another communication channel.” “TwitVark” would be a great configuration, since it would combine the conversational atmosphere and optional social norm of Twitter with the social search filtering of Aardvark.

5 thoughts on “Aardvark vs. Twitter – the role of social in social search”

  1. Adina,

    Great post!

    Let me add my $.02

    Here’s what I blogged about at VentureBeat:


  2. Here’s what I said in comparison to Twitter:

    Why is this so important?

    First, let’s analyze how some people use web darling Twitter.

    Venture capitalist Fred Wilson writes on his blog:

    And of course, Twitter is huge when you are on the road. I got advice on coffee in Paddington Station, where to get a U.K. blackberry charger, and a host of other suggestions on life in Paris via friends and followers on Twitter on this trip.

    Fred has more than 7,000 users on Twitter, I have barely 200 followers — but with Aardvark it not only evens the playing field, but opens the possibility of much, much more because of the network effect: The more users on Aardvark (there are currently more than 1,500 testing the beta), the more knowledge is available, and the faster the response.

    Aardvark brings that power to the masses, and it leverages the collective intelligence (like Yahoo Answers) in real-time (like Twitter) without restricting you to just your followers.

    And you don’t have to worry about spammers.

  3. Adina,

    Thanks for the thoughtful commentary. I’m obviously biased as an obsessive user and developer of the service, but you should try it out and see if you still think it’s as invasive as you fear. We’ve worked for well over a year to balance the interaction between the opposing goals of pinging as few people as possible when a question is asked and making everyone pinged feel like there’s no obligation to answer. Also, you can make sure that you’re never being IMed more than once a day or control when/by whom/about what you are asked.

    Overall, most people feel glad to be able to help their friends around topics they care about if they aren’t obligated to do so. Also, Aardvark scales very differently than twitter as people in your network use it. I love twitter and check for new tweets from the people that I follow (about 200) many times a day. If every question every one of those 200 people asked came into my feed, it would quickly overwhelm the other content and make twitter a lot less useful. I would much rather all those questions were filtered for the ones that I likely want to answer due to the asker or the content. I’m happy to have those questions come more directly via IM as long as there aren’t too many (as tends to be the case).

    Anyways, let me know if I can get you an invite to kick the tires.

    max [at] launch9 [dot] com

  4. Hi, Max,

    I’d love an invite. Also, Rob Spiro said on Twitter that you are planning a twitter integration. I think that “TwitVark” would my preferred configuration, since it would combine the conversational atmosphere and optional social norm of Twitter with the social search filtering of Aardvark.



  5. Adina,

    I had this same reaction when I first started using Aardvark – I found it to be quite intrusive. But after awhile, it grew on me considerably. Now when I get a ping from Aardvark I’m anxious to see what the question is in hopes I can answer it. There is a real satisfaction that comes (at least for me) in being able to offer an opinion and help someone out. Carefully inputting the topics you’re willing to answer questions on in your profile will improve the service’s ability to route you relevant questions.

    Even when I’m busy, it’s perfectly fine to tell Aardvark you’re busy or just ignore it altogether – though admittedly, you still get that intrusive initial ping. You have the ability to set how frequently Aardvark pings you, and can set to as few as 1x a week (perhaps they should make zero an option for those who want to be strictly questioners and not answerers). Also if you wanted, you can restrict your settings to email and only receive questions through that medium.

    Try it out. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised, as I have.

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