Google is quite the social butterfly these days. A mere two days after launching Google Buzz, a social networking feature that melds Facebook- and Twitter-like features into the search giant's popular Gmail service, it's confirmed plans to buy Aardvark, a San Francisco-based startup that routes users' questions to members of their social network.
Here's how Aardvark works: You send it a question, via email, Twitter, IM, Web, or iPhone, that Aardvark then routes to the most appropriate person(s) in your social network, based on their knowledge, hobbies, tastes, and so on. The company says the "vast majority" of questions are answered within 10 minutes.
I suspect that real-world results vary by the number of people in your social circle, how smart they are, how busy they are, and whether they really want to help you.
In addition to the Buzz and Aardvark announcements, Google last year launched Google Wave, a somewhat nebulous communications and social app for the Web.
Google's Long Snout
So why would Google want Aardvark, and how might it integrate the ask-a-friend service with its growing stable of social-networking tools?
Certainly, Google is hearing footsteps from the Twitters and Facebooks of the world, and it's getting spooked.
"The success of the social sites is a threat to Google, and the Buzz announcement and the Wave before it show how seriously it is taking the challenge. This acquisition is another sign," writes Hadley Reynolds, a search industry analyst for research firm IDC, in an email interview with PC World.
"Every time someone learns something or answers a question directly from a connection on a social site, it represents to Google the loss of a potential search. And that means the loss of the chance to display more ads (and) generate more revenue," Reynolds writes.
Friends, Don't Fail Me Now
Google can use Aardvark's friends-based Q&A technology to differentiate its social experience from the leading sites -- Facebook and Twitter come to mind -- in this space.
"Aardvark may help Google gain a little something that the others don't have," adds Reynolds.
But will your friends respond? Google apparently thinks so. It has experimented with related Q&A services concepts in the past, specifically Google Answers, a fee-based, ask-a-researcher service that closed in 2006.