Aardvark Oct. 14 launched a new Website that lets users ask questions and receive answers from people instead of search results surfaced by algorithms.
Vark.com is the latest in a parade of so-called social search engines designed to bring a more human element to Web search.
With Vark.com, users can ask a question in English and sit back and let Aardvark find the most appropriate person from a user's Facebook social graph or e-mail contacts to answer in less than 5 minutes.
What sort of questions might you ask? Aardvark suggests local service recommendations, such as good coffee shops or restaurants, book suggestions and travel tips.
Ask your question:
When you get your answer, you can reach out to your fellow Varker (Has Aardvark coined that term yet for Vark users?) for a follow-up conversation:
I can see Vark.com being a fantastic tool for tourists traveling to a city, or even just new arrivals who are moving into new digs and stressing over learning the lay of the land.
Before launching Vark.com, Aardvark connected users to its human experts via e-mail, instant messaging, Twitter and Apple's iPhone, which impressed bloggers. The New York Times also generously profiled Aardvark, which has cachet via a bunch of Googlers.
I tested Hunch.com, a so-called decision engine, earlier in 2009. The service also crowdsources search results, but differently, asking users to answer questions. These answers are then put in front of future searchers. It was a fun experiment for me, but that was all.
I get this social search thing, same as I got it when I looked at Mahalo and ChaCha. But if you're looking to do a general Web search, Google is still the place to go. Or Bing if you're so inclined. Even Yahoo.
Social search engine developers will tell you they're intended as alternatives to traditional, math-based search in some situations where their services make sense -- but not as outright replacements for Google and Bing.
Secretly, these social innovators would love millions of users to build out their indexes by providing answers, ultimately to replace impersonal, top-line search. It would be a wonderful ego stroke, but these sites are ahead of their time.
Beyond the eternal dogfeeding in Silicon Valley, these sites won't get much traction. People are too caught up in Google and Bing.
I'm actually surprised the big search engines haven't acquired some of these social search engines, making them part of their offerings.
The notion of bridging the gap between social networks and search may be a little daunting and scary to Google or Bing, but if I were them I'd go for it. They can't afford to have Facebook and Twitter consume too much of the social search opportunity.