Aardvark Taps Twitter as Another Entry Point

When it came out of beta, last week, I wrote about "answer community" Aardvark. The service is building a network -- or leveraging existing networks like Facebook -- to enable people to respond to questions that search engines can't answer as easily or well. In my prior post above I discuss my experience when I asked Aardvark (Vark) for recommendations on "generally available pinot noir wines for under $15."  

I've also written up a piece this morning at Search Engine Land on how Aardvark is starting to use Twitter as another "entry point" or onramp for the service: 

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You can now sign in to Aardvark using Twitter (as you can with Facebook Connect) and ask questions through Twitter, privately via direct message or publicly. The latter scenario will send the question to Aardvark as well as one's own Twitter "followers," broadening the pool of potential responses. 

At one point I thought a Vark-like service or similar capability would emerge at Twitter. But I no longer think that Twitter will put any effort into formally developing it. 

The LMS/Opus crew met with Aardvark yesterday and talked through a range of issues, including:

  • Mobile access
  • Voice input
  • Monetization 

Voice isn't "quite there yet" so it's going to be awhile before people can speak their queries. Mobile input is already available via IM and email. But the Vark team recognizes mobile as a primary use case for the service. In terms of monetization, CEO Max Ventilla spoke about affiliate links and hand offs being mapped to the content of user queries and answers. This makes sense and would be potentially unintrusive. The challenge for Vark is volume and scale to generate any meaningful revenues from such deals. The team will probably need to look at other monetization scenarios later as well.

A great many of the queries that pass through Vark are going to be about places and things to do, making it a kind of local-social search tool. Indeed, travel and entertainment will be primary use cases for the service. 

There are now a number of companies that in one way or another are trying to provide human answers/responses to queries. These include ChaCha, kgb's Text411, Yahoo! Answers and a number of online Q&A communities. The site that Aardvark is most like is the original incarnation of Mosio, which is changing and taking on a more enterprise flavor. 

ChaCha is trying to find the right balance of humans and automation to control costs as ads ramp up. Text411 is a consumer pays service, which might limit demand. Yahoo! Answers, which is now showing near real-time response, offers inconsistent quality and generally anonymous answers (although you can invite friends to be a part of your network). 

For its part Vark may have challenges generating revenue, although the affiliate model conceptually makes lots of sense. However the Vark consumer experience is very strong. Community members are not getting paid to respond and have lots of control over how often they receive questions and what types of questions they get. So there are controls to avoid Q&A fatigue. 

Another interesting thing here is the notion of decentralization implicit in the model. Vark doesn't need a massive audience of users (me --> the world) to provide a good user experience. The site needs people to bring their immediate networks (via email or Facebook).

If my friends can't answer my queries, their friends probably can. Over time a landscape of smaller communities connected through Vark will create the kind of scale the site is hoping to achieve. But I only get and respond to questions that flow within my extended network. Consequently the experience could work quite well at 10K users, a 100K or, eventually, 20 million (or more) users.  I'm not asking the world for a response, just my network and their friends. 

There were three of us at the meeting yesterday with Aardvark. Everyone uniformly was impressed with the consumer experience and the thinking behind it. However there was some skepticism about Vark's ability to monetize effectively. Of the three of us I was probably the one who'd consumed the most kool-aid. But I'm genuinely impressed with Aardvark.