If you haven't played with Aardvark yet, you haven't fully experienced the power of the Internet.
If you are unfamiliar, Aardvark lets you ask a question and promises an accurate answer from a trusted source in under five minutes. If you use Facebook, it dips into your social graph and finds people that are knowledgeable on certain topics. If you have a question about latin jazz or restaurants in Paris, chances are one of your friends either has knowledge on that topic, or one of their friends does.
Temple nightclub in San Francisco was packed last night for Aardvark's unveiling of the new design of their website. It wasn't the typical Silicon Valley geek crowd either; normal people were there too.
I was lucky to have Aardvark co-founder Max Ventilla give me a private demo.
He says his team learned about how to redesign their website from feedback on their iPhone app.
Analyzing the engagement of users helped them simplify the web interface, making it more interactive and usable.
The new interface is dead simple. When you look at the site logged out, it kinda reminds of Twitter, with one input box for you to type a question.
When you login, there are two main tabs: Ask, and Answer. "I think this is a platform that can get better and better," said Ventilla.
There is a heavy emphasis on history, and your network's activity. Vark's new paint job allows the user to see the flow of questions and answers in time a lot better.
“There is a real science behind the system. They aren't just slapping a question on a board and picking a user at random to answer it. It's more of a social app, that takes advantage of the channels that most people use all the time: IM, email, their mobile device, and the web.”
Ventilla said the company focused on these three objectives when launching the new site:
- Opening up to a mainstream audience - Their iPhone app was a way to dip into the collective.
- Extending new functionality - The ability to sift through a bunch of questions that are targeted to you. This feature was the number one thing requested in the forum.
- Creating a personal hub - Allowing you to manage granular privacy settings, specific options related to how you interact with the site, and cleaning up the navigation to have more clear destinations for the user to explore and manage Aardvark.
My favorite part of their new design is the "Watch live" section that lists hot topics that people are taking about.
You can also drill down your network by these criteria: entire network, friends, or friends-of-friends.
Aardvark doesn't have a merit system; there are no points or badges for giving good answers. This is not something that's on their radar right now.
But Vark does have hidden game mechanics built into the system that the user doesn't even notice. For instance, you can be knowledgeable on computer science, web publishing, and CSS, so Aardvark might think you know something about graphic design or RSS, because those are related topics.
The more topics you are trusted on, the more fun it is to use the site.
Also, you feel good about using the site if others recommend topics that they think you know something about. Building your repertoire of topics is fun and can be competitive.
Google will find the answer to questions that have a definitive answer, but it can’t speculate on more open-ended questions or advice about more personal or cultural topics.Ventilla says spammers weed themselves out of the system naturally, just by acting like spammers. If users vote down your answers or flag them as spam, Aardvark will ping you less. Eventually, if you keep acting like an idiot, you will be an army of one, interacting with no one but yourself.
Subjective questions have more actionable answers. The answer is also coming from someone you can trust, not some random stranger. And people won't take time out of their day to give a bad answer.
As social media gets bigger and more congested, companies like Aardvark will need to fine-tune their technology to keep the best, most accurate results coming back every time. Yahoo Answers, Hunch and Mahalo Answers are gonna have to get smarter and more social if they want to keep up with The Mechanical Zoo.
More discussion on this at Techmeme