The venture capitalists wasted an abundant of cash backing this venture. We can not see how this company will generate any real profit.
Trivia knowledge is usually cheap or free. Skilled Know-How costs.
"A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention."
- Herbert Simon, 1971
- Herbert Simon, 1971
In the real world, the "World Class" domain experts provides "exclusive and esoteric knowledge on a need-to-know basis".
# June 28, 2009
Now All Your Friends Are in the Answer Business
By RANDALL STROSS
WE love to solicit advice.
Friends and family can be reliable advisers; fortune cookies, maybe less so. The Web in its glorious abundance could guide every imaginable personal decision, but it is guidance from strangers. Seeing an unmet opportunity, companies are piling into the online advice business.
Last month, Microsoft began marketing Bing, its renamed search engine, as its new Decision Engine.” In fact, however, it’s too timid when it comes to subjective advice. Bing still gives you links to Web sites you must wade through yourself, when what you often want is the knowledgeable friend who says, emphatically, Buy this one,” or Go here.” Hunch, a start-up that publicly opened its answer service this month, asks users to respond to a succession of questions to find the best choice in its answer database. But it requires a lot of work on the part of the questioner, and its advice is no better than whatever information happens to be in its database.
Ask Bing for a restaurant recommendation best Chinese in Palo Alto” and the first link points not to a recommended place but to a restaurant review site, Yelp. (Google does the same.) Ask Hunch and it flounders: it asks that you clarify your question and provides as possibilities What’s the best laptop for me?” and What’s the best condom for me?” A new service offered by Aardvark (vark.com), however, provides specific recommendations. Its advice is always current, too, obtained on the fly from those we trust, like friends, but whose collective expertise far exceeds that of the relatively few people we happen to know personally.
Founded in 2007 and based in San Francisco, the company has just completed beta testing of its answer service and opened it to the public last week. It begins with the social network that you’ve established elsewhere. Presently, it requires Facebook; other networks will be added, it says.
Once signed up, you submit a question to Aardvark via an instant message or e-mail, and its software looks among your Facebook friends, and friends-of-your-friends, for volunteers to answer it. You can exclude any friends from the potential contact list. One doesn’t need Aardvark’s help to blast out a plea for guidance to many people online. But when you do, you waste the time of a lot of people,” said Damon Horowitz, one of Aardvark’s four co-founders. Asking a specific person for help isn’t without cost, either. There’s also ‘social capital’ expended when you lean on a person to answer a question,” Mr. Horowitz said. By having Aardvark circulate the question without letting the questioner know who has declined to respond, no feelings are hurt. Aardvark takes that hit,” he said.
Those friends-of-friends may turn out to be a great fountain of hitherto untapped information. For example, none of your 200 Facebook friends” may have recently stayed in Napa and be able to recommend a bed-and-breakfast. But if each of their friends can be tapped, the pool of prospective wine-country authorities jumps from 200 into the tens of thousands. You wouldn’t want to bother those thousands, however, with your question about Napa B.& B.’s. Aardvark has devised ways to drastically narrow the search, asking only those who are most likely to have an answer, and asking only a few of them at a time, protecting your network of volunteers from being asked too often.
The Aardvark system assumes that no single answer will serve for everyone who poses the same question. It uses information about interests supplied by registrants and from outside social networking profiles to match interests, demographic characteristics, common affiliations and other factors. It also checks whether prospective advice-givers are presently signed into one of three instant-messaging services. (The company says an iPhone version is in the works, too.)
If no one is interested in answering, Aardvark sends the question along to another small batch, extending from friends to friends-of-friends, and then their friends, if necessary. If the best matches aren’t online, e-mail messages are sent. On average, we have to contact eight people to get two who are willing and online,” said Nicholas Chim, a senior engineer at Aardvark. But we look at thousands in order to build the list of the top prospects.”
Having humans, not software, supply the advice is important. Max Ventilla, who formerly was at Google and is now Aardvark’s chief executive, said, Often the most useful answers don’t answer the original question. Example: ‘You don’t want to go to the Caribbean now it’s the rainy season you want to go to Hawaii.’ ” ONCE you try Aardvark’s service, you can’t look at Yahoo Answers, the current leader in questions-and-answers, without feeling pity for its now-manifest limitations.
Ask Aardvark the best Chinese in Palo Alto” question, and two good restaurant names arrive within five minutes, fulfilling the service’s aim of supplying answers from two people quickly, though not instantly. Follow-up questions can be dispatched effortlessly to the answerers, and one can also click to learn about their interests, group identities, Facebook profiles and personal Web sites, too.
Ask Yahoo Answers the same Palo Alto question and it instantly displays a stored answer with two recommendations, but it was posted four years ago. (A Yahoo spokesman said that no team member was available for an interview.) Aardvark may come to be preferred over answer databases and decision engines” if many people want a speedy answer from a fellow human being.
Nathan Stoll, another co-founder, says that there is a common desire for an answer from someone, but not from anyone from a friend, or a friend-of-a-friend from ‘your’ someone.”
Randall Stross is an author based in Silicon Valley and a professor of business at San Jose State University. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.