Google has announced the acquisition of Aardvark for a reported $50 million, and with it a new way to leverage social networks to find fast, relevant answers to questions. My PCWorld peer Jeff Bertolucci considers how Aardvark helps Google shift the landscape and compete against social networking rivals like Facebook and Twitter, but the real value of Aardvark is in what Google can offer business customers.
Sniffing Out Answers with Aardvark
The premise of Aardvark is to capitalize on social networks to answer questions quickly from sources that, by virtue of being within the extended social network of the person asking the question, are inherently more trusted than other sources like Bing, or Yahoo Answers.
Askers can pose a question to Aardvark via e-mail, Twitter, instant messaging, Web, or iPhone. Aardvark analyzes your established network of friends, and friends of friends, to identify sources most likely to know the answer. Aardvark uses demographic information, affiliations, past blog posts and Twitter tweets, and other characteristics to determine potential respondents, and also checks online status on common instant messaging services to identify users immediately available to answer.
If you want to find the best Japanese steakhouse in Orange County, you could ask Bing, or Yahoo Answers, but it could take a while to get an answer, and you might not trust or believe the answers you get. You could use a resource like Yelp--another social networking entity that Google has shown interest in acquiring--to check for local reviews. Or, you can use Aardvark, which will target the question to the best potential respondents from your own social network, and receive a response in less than ten minutes on average, according to Aardvark.
Streamlining Business with Aardvark
Google hasn't presented the Aardvark acquisition as a business play, but the value for business customers is obvious. A business version of Aardvark can be tailored to identify the strengths and areas of expertise for all employees so that questions posed can be targeted to the best potential pool of resources to answer them.
Aardvark would not only help employees get a relevant answer to questions in a timely manner, but hopefully a handful of answers. The collective input will either be consistent, lending further credibility to the responses, or provide various points of view that could help clarify the issue and raise relevant questions leading to better decisions.
A tool that can help employees get the best answer in the shortest time improves the efficiency and productivity of everyone. Such a tool would be particularly valuable in a customer service contact center. Rather than blindly escalating difficult issues, Aardvark can target escalations specifically to the resources qualified to address them--improving the effectiveness of the contact center and improving customer satisfaction.
Of course, the Aardvark average of less than ten minutes is the equivalent of an eon in customer service response time. However, if Google were to combine the Aardvark functionality with the existing suite of tools--Gmail, GTalk, Google Buzz, Google Voice, etc.--it could leverage status information to determine presence and availability and route issues to the best possible resources available to respond immediately.
The Aardvark acquisition has been positioned as a challenge for social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter--which it is, but it is also another important element of what Google has to offer its business customers, and another potential nail in the coffin of Google's challenge for established unified communications platforms like those from Cisco and Microsoft.