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.