By Philip Michaels, MacworldSEP 15, 2009 2:01 am PDT
Aardvark has taken a different tack with search. The online service figures it’s sometimes more productive to ask a question of an actual person—usually someone from within your social network—rather than brave the vagaries of a search engine and its sometimes irrelevant answers. And now the people behind Aardvark are bringing that same approach to the iPhone and iPod touch.
Aardvark Mobile actually arrived in the App Store nearly a week ago. But developer Vark.com waited until Tuesday to take the wraps off the mobile version of its social question-and-answer service.
Aardvark Mobile tackles the same problem as the Aardvark Web site—dealing with subjective searches where two people might type in the same keywords but be searching for two completely different things. “Search engines by design struggle with these types of queries,” Aardvark CEO Max Ventilla said.
What Aardvark does is tap into your social networks and contacts on Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and elsewhere to track down answers to questions that might otherwise flummox a search engine—things like “Where’s a good place to eat in this neighborhood?” or “Where should I stay when I visit London?” With Aadvark’s Web service, you’d send a message through your IM client to Aardvark; the service then figures out who in your network (and in their extended network) might be able to answer the question and asks them on your behalf. Ventilla says that 90 percent of the questions asked via Aardvark get answered. The majority of questions are answered in less than five minutes.
The iPhone version of Aardvark works much the same way. Instead of an IM, you type a message directly into the app, tag it with the appropriate categories, and send it off to Aardvark. The service pings people for an answer, and sends you a push notification when there’s a reply. In previewing the app, I asked a question about affordable hotels in Central London—two responses came back within about three minutes from other Aardvark users.
In addition to push notifications, Aardvark Mobile also taps into the iPhone’s built-in location features to automatically detect your location—a feature that can help when you’re asking about local hotspots. If you shake your mobile device when you’re on the Answer tab, Aardvark Mobile looks up any unanswered questions that you may be able to provide a response for (while also producing a very alarming aardvark-like noise).
“We think Aardvark is particularly well-suited to mobile, and especially the iPhone given how rich that platform is to develop for,” Ventilla said.
You don’t have to already be using Aardvark’s online service to take advantage of the mobile app. The free Aardvark Mobile app lets you set up a profile on your iPhone or iPod touch; Facebook Connect integration helps you instantly build up a network of friends who are also using the service.