I’m a big fan of applications that tap into something I already use, and make it better, more useful, and more fun. In this case, I’ve discovered a new service that taps into your instant messenger, your social networks, and your areas of expertise all at once.
The site was in private beta for a while, then was invite-only. Recently, it’s become publicly available and is now open for questions. It’s available to anyone who logs in through Facebook Connect (If you have a Facebook account already, you’re all set. If not, Facebook accounts are free to everyone!). The Facebook implications of Aardvark are pretty impressive, but even logging in with Facebook is a great tool. If you haven’t had the privilege of owning a Facebook account, read on — we have exclusive invites and we’re giving them out to MakeUseOf readers!
Signing up for Aardvark is simple, as is getting it running ““ just add some information about where you are, the IM client and username of your choice (as long as it’s Google Talk, AIM, or Live Messenger ““ for now), and the types of questions you’d like to answer for other people. You can also use the service by email, but I’m going to focus on IM because it’s so much cooler.
Once you’re set up, Aardvark lives in your IM window, and anytime you want to ask a question, just IM Aardvark with your question. Aardvark parses the question to figure out what it’s about ““ which it does a remarkably good job with ““ and then sends it to someone who it thinks is able to answer your question. You’ll get an answer back quickly, and be able to have a brief chat with the person who answered your question.
From the other side (the answerer), Aardvark is even more ingenious. When you sign up, you choose how often you want Aardvark to ask you questions; I chose “a couple of times a day.” When that time comes up, Aardvark sends you an IM saying “So-and-so has a question about ‘Some Topic You Can Answer.’”
You can respond one of a few ways – “Sure” to see and answer the question, “face” to pass it on to a Facebook friend who might be able to answer, or “pass” to just make the question go away. If you pass, you can then mute a given topic to not get any more questions based on that topic.
The cool thing about Aardvark is that the questions are limitless. For instance, I’m listed as able to answer questions about New York City, where I live. I periodically get a question like, “Where should I go for dinner near Union Square?”, and I’m able to offer a recommendation. The questions I get rarely require factual answers, and that’s one of the fun things about Aardvark ““ it’s a great way to find out what other people are into that I might like as well.
One of Aardvark’s sample questions is, “Where’s the best place to buy running shoes in San Francisco?” It’s this kind of question, one that Google wouldn’t know but an actual local person might, that gives Aardvark awesome potential. Instead of services like ChaCha, which essentially just replaces a Google search when you can’t do one yourself, Aardvark goes beyond the capabilities, and sets you up with an expert in their field ““ even if that field is running shoes in San Francisco.
As you use Aardvark more, you get a sense of people who are able to answer certain questions for you ““ maybe you have a friend in Utah who you trust to answer such questions. You create these connections, and Aardvark uses them to narrow down your respondents even more, to try and get you the best possible answer. From the get-go though, Aardvark’s always done a good job of finding me the right person to answer my question.
Once you set it up, it’s incredibly simple to use. It’s unobtrusive, and lives right in your IM window; nothing to install or download, or remember to run. There was a lot of buzz around Aardvark as SXSW got underway, and a few minutes using the app makes it easy to see why.
As a MakeUseOf reader, you can now sign up to Aardark without using your Facebook account. Just hit this link and sign up! It’s now open for questions, but there are only 300 invites so grab one quickly!
Is there anything else like this out there? Can Twitter do this better? What do you think?
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