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Google Labs Aardvark



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Aardvark was a quirky little social answering service that Google purchased in 2010 for $50 million. The company was a small start-up founded in 2007 and launched to the public in 2009. Users registered for an account and indicated areas of expertise, with the intent of mainly answering quick questions off the top of their heads. All users could then ask each other (or rather the "hivemind") questions which would be fielded to people who theoretically had some expertise in the area. Aardvark relied mainly on instant messaging and used email as a secondary contact method. This contrasted with other question answering services, like Yahoo! Answers and Answerbag, which are website based.

Aardvark also allowed you to use your social connections for the fielding of questions, so your Facebook, Gmail, and other contacts would be imported and prioritized for answers, but only in areas where they had expertise. This routing of questions to experts was also fairly innovative for the product.

Google's previous attempt at a question and answer service, Google Answers, was one of the early Google initiatives to get the axe. Unlike Google Answers, which paid people to research and answer questions, Aardvark relied on unpaid experts and their social willingness to answer each others' questions. Aardvark also could instant message users with new questions or answers or email them to try to engage them with the service.

Google has been struggling to create good social services for a while, and this was one of many failed experiments down that path, though one could argue that acquiring the people behind the product may have served them better than the product itself. 

Why It Failed

Officially, Google just said that they were shutting down a lot of smaller projects in order to simplify the Google user experience. It joins a very long list of products that were shut down at the same time or had their features collapsed into features of other, more popular Google projects.

The Aardvark team was mostly moved to Google+, and that's probably a good fit for their skill set as well as a better use of Google resources.

Meanwhile, I can tell you what I hated about Aardvark, and why I think it was bound to fail, sooner or later. It wasn't that the idea was bad. It was just a product that shrank on you instead of growing. It was an annoying time-suck.

I registered for an Aardvark account as soon as the service was acquired by Google. For a while, I'd answer quick questions a couple times a day just to get a feel for it. Then I'd get constant instant messages telling me I had a new question. Occasionally I'd get emails. I didn't really have any questions I wanted to ask. I had a search engine as my go-to for that, but I'd get a steady stream of questions asked in my direction. You didn't have to answer every question you were asked, but it still takes a lot of time to parse through a steady stream of questions and decide if it was something that could be answered quickly. Hence, it was a time-suck.

I don't know if my experience was typical, but I doubt it was all that atypical. I'm betting that people tended to be either askers or answerers, and after a while that can really feel like a parasite-host relationship instead of a social experience. Add a plucky aardvark that auto messages you until you figure out how to turn that service off, and it's a recipe for annoyance.

Eventually Aardvark may have figured out a social reward system that made engagement fun, but the service was plunked into Google Labs upon acquisition, and it died at the same time as many other Google Labs projects. 

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