By Ryan Kim
Some searches, say for a good Valentine’s Day gift or a movie recommendation, are best handled with a human touch.
That’s the thinking of San Francisco startup Aardvark, which is taking the wraps off a new search service that leverages Internet communication tools and your expanded circle of friends to speed you answers to subjective queries, when opinion is more important than hard facts.
“We see ourselves at the intersection of communication, social networks and search,” said co-founder and CEO Max Ventilla, a former Google executive.
Starting today, Aardvark is expanding its private beta program, allowing users to invite dozens of friends into the service. Beta testers will now be able to invite friends through their social networks and status updates.
Users first fill out a profile that lists their location and the subjects they feel comfortable providing answers on. They then install Aardvark as a buddy in their instant messaging service such as AIM, Google Talk or Microsoft Live Messenger.
When users find themselves in need of a little wisdom, they can query Aardvark over IM or send an e-mail to Aardvark. Using an algorithm program, the service automatically analyzes the question and routes it to a handful of friends and friends of friends who have experience in that subject area.
The goal is to get two or three answers back to the questioner within about five minutes, with answers pulled mostly from a person’s friends or friends of friends. If the first batch of queries goes unanswered, Aardvark casts a wider net, quizzing a few more people.
Ventilla said the service is more personal and reliable than Yahoo Answers and more appropriate for subjective questions than Google. And he said it’s more refined than a query over Twitter or Facebook, with its ability to target specific people with information rather than broadcast requests.
“Aardvark gets you information from people you connect to and trust but does it in a very easy and reliable way,” Ventilla said.
Responders can also refer questions to members with more knowledge about a certain subject. And members can carry on conversations with their answer-givers to obtain more information.
Early beta tester Kai Hasson, 25, an online video producer from Los Angeles, was initially disappointed with the service when it began last year because it offered few good answers – if any at all. But as the membership grew, he found it to be a powerful tool and an entertaining way to get recommendations.
“I get more answers than Twitter, and more often than not, people know what they’re talking about,” Hasson said.
Aardvark was started in 2007 by a handful of ex-Google employees and entrepreneurs and now employs 15 people in a two-story space in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood. The company got off the ground with angel investors and has been sustained more recently by a $5.5 million cash injection late last year led by August Capital.
Next up for Aardvark is making sure the system can scale up with users and broaden its reach so it can work on social networks such as Facebook and on mobile phones through text messages.
“Ultimately, we want Aardvark to be a contact you can interact with at any time,” Ventilla said.
Aardvark personalizes searching
By Ryan Kim