Aardvark: Mobile Users More Active

We've been writing about Aardvark since before its launch. I originally characterized it as an "answer community," but the company recently adopted the moniker "social search engine," which is a bit more familiar and something of an established "category" of search engines.

Last week Aardvark co-founder Damon Horowitz (one of the architects of its algorithm) and Sepandar Kamvar (who was behind Google's personalized search and now teaches at Stanford) wrote a research paper called “Anatomy of a Large Scale Social Search Engine." The document is something of an homage to an earlier paper written by then Stanford grad students Sergey Brin and Larry Page "Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine."

The paper goes into how queries are analyzed and routed among people and offers a great deal of interesting information and data that I won't summarize here. You can get the report and take a look if you're interested. What I'm going to highlight is the distribution of queries:

Picture 3

Source/image: Aardvark

A substantial portion of these fall into the traditional "local" (offline) categories as one might expect. But the range of queries is quite broad: people looking for advice and general information from "experts." Furthermore, here's what the paper says about mobile usage of Aardvark:

Mobile users had an average of 3.6322 sessions per month, which is surprising on two levels. First, mobile users of Aardvark are more active than desktop users. (As a point of comparison, on Google, desktop users are almost 3 times as active as mobile users.) Second, mobile users of Aardvark are almost as active in absolute terms as mobile users of Google (who have on average 5.68 mobile sessions per month). This is quite surprising for a service that has only been available for 6 months.

We believe this is for two reasons. First, browsing through traditional web search results on a phone is unwieldy. On a phone, it’s more useful to get a single short answer that’s crafted exactly to your query. Second, people are used to using natural language with phones, and so Aardvark’s query model feels natural in that context. These considerations (and early experiments) also suggest that Aardvark mobile users will be similarly active with voice-based search.

Mobile usage is more active than PC usage; this makes sense given the many information sources on the PC (alternatives to Aardvark), as well as the challenges of using conventional search on mobile devices (notwithstanding voice search). 

Aardvark, kgb and ChaCha exist along a continuum in a broadly similar category of peer-to-peer search -- a kind of DA 2.0. The three have different business models and different degrees of usage and penetration. Aardvark, similar to Siri, ultimately seeks to make money from affiliate referrals (but may develop a premium version for certain segments of users). ChaCha is entirely ad supported; kgb uses a more traditional per query consumer-pays model.