Google acquired Aardvark, a start-up that helps you find answers to your questions in an interesting way.
"Aardvark is a new kind of tool that lets you tap into the knowledge and experience of friends and friends-of-friends. Send Aardvark a question (from the web, IM, email, Twitter, or iPhone) and you'll get a quick, helpful response from someone with the right knowledge and experience to help," explains the FAQ page.
Instead of sending a question to all your Twitter followers or Facebook friends, you could use Aardvark and send the question to those that have the expertise to answer it. When you sign up for Aardvark, you need to enter your main interests. Aardvark automatically tags questions, tries to find the users that could answer the questions and sends them the questions.
Aardvark uses a lot of signals to determine the people that receive your question: related topics in profiles, how you're connected to people, who you trust, your history of training Aardvark, people who share your favorites (for taste-related questions), people in the right location (for location-related questions). It's quite clever and it's very similar to Google's ranking algorithms. Instead of matching a query to the best search results, Aardvark matches a question to the best people that can answer it.
"On average, we have to contact eight people to get two who are willing and online. But we look at thousands in order to build the list of the top prospects," explains Nicholas Chim, a senior engineer at Aardvark.
This is the future of social search and Google is already in the process of integrating social search with standard search results. For now, Google indexes existing user-generated content from your social connections, but it's not difficult to anticipate that Google Social Search will generate new content.
"When you need an answer to a very specific question, sometimes the information just isn't online in one simple place. For example, let's say you want to know if there's snow on Skyline Boulevard on a given day or the best time of year to plant beans in the Bay Area. You might find weather reports and planting guides on many different sites, but for these kinds of questions, a person with the right expertise can be a lot more useful than a webpage," mentions Google's blog.
Aardvark's acquisition is special for many reasons: Aardvark's chief executive is a former Google employee, the service is still available even if it was acquired by Google and it's the first acquisition directly added to Google Labs.
"Aardvark is meant for tips, advice, opinions, and recommendations that pull knowledge from a trusted network." Here's an example of conversation:
A Google Labs user posted a way to find if it's a good idea to ask a question using Aardvark:
"Ask subjective questions that are interesting for someone to answer and rich in context. My rule of thumb is to ask anything that could be better answered if I gave a second sentence of context. If no second sentence would really help get me a better answer (like "who was the 40th president?") then it's probably a better question for Google."
It will be interesting to see how Aardvark integrates with Google Buzz, Google Talk and Google Search.