When did you last ask an Aardvark a question?

Not too long ago, companies chased the illusive ‘Web 2.0’ buzz-phrase which seemed to only consist of glossy icons and sticking ‘BETA’ somewhere on your new site design. These days it’s ‘social networks’ that is the ‘must-have’ feature for the success of any new online service.

Social networks have their uses in finding out what your friends and contacts are up to, but what if you wanted to unlock the power of these connections?

Aardvark seems to have hit the nail right on the head with their offering to the social network revolution. Their service, usable via their website, email, IM and now iPhone, aims to get you an answer to any question you care to pose to the collective brain of its connected users. Sure, you can post a question to Twitter and hope one of your followers (or someone searching at the time) can answer it. Chances are you’re just shouting into the darkness. Alternatively, you could just hit your favourite search engine and try any combination of keywords to try get a tailored answer.

Aardvark increases the likelihood of a better answer to your question through three important advances over any other social network

  1. You can list topics which you’d like, or would feel able to, answer questions about.
  2. You have ‘The Vark’ as a central co-ordinator who looks at questions, figures out what they might be about and goes off to find people who might be able to help. Through a single contact you interact with everyone on Aardvark.
  3. The most important difference over any search engine is that Aardvark connects you to real people. Sure, people are biased and fallible but you get the power of the human mind interpreting your question. The lateral thinking and real-world experience this brings can far outweigh a search engine gleefully returning 2 million results when all you wanted was an answer.

So I’m a convert. Aardvark is an exciting way of getting and giving assistance without it feeling like hard work. There is a fantastic community which has been brought together by a dedicated team of people over in San Francisco. And one of the reasons there’s fuel to this idea is that they listen. The Community section of the Aardvark website allows users to suggest new features which the team have started to work into the product.

There are other sites out there offering answers, like Yahoo Answers and others, but they present answering questions in a far more selfish manner. By offering ‘points’ for answering questions, users find questions by browsing around a website looking for easy pickings. One sentence answers on questions getting no attention, along the lines of the dreaded forum post answer of ‘me too’, eventually leads to a user getting the points for being the only one to bother answering.

Thankfully, as Aardvark generally approaches things from the other end by asking for topics to answer rather than leaving users with free time on their hands to climb pointless ranks; the whole experience is much more rewarding. You just get answers fast, which at the end of the day is all you need from the service. By allowing access to the service through many means, it’s easy to interact with it wherever you are. The new iPhone application (available through the iTunes App Store) supports push notifications so you can get your answer even faster on the move.

If you’ve not joined the growing Aardvark community yet, I’d advise you give it a try. I consider it a part of my daily toolkit for helping to find answers to problems, and giving a little help back too in my spare time.

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