Aardvark Q&A service
November 8, 2009 4:49 PM   Subscribe

Aardvark is a Q&A chat service that tries find people to answer your questions among your friends, friends of friends and people who know something about your subject. In practice it's a bit like AskOmegle.

Previously, about Omegle.
posted by The Devil Tesla (38 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What the heck, I signed up. Like how they tried me to use my "full name, like on Facebook or LinkedIn". Sorry, website I never heard of until 10 seconds ago, it's going to take more than that to earn my trust. Answering my first question will be a good start!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:04 PM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Like how they tried me to use my "full name, like on Facebook or LinkedIn".

It's worth noting that the website does not give out your full name to other users. People are practically anonymous unless you give out a personal website link.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 5:10 PM on November 8, 2009

So why do they demand it?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:16 PM on November 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Probably because they don't want people to use nicknames/numbers/screennames.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:27 PM on November 8, 2009

So why do they demand it?

It's used for social networking stuff. If you become friends with someone you see their full name.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 5:30 PM on November 8, 2009

What's up with Cerebus?
posted by Balisong at 5:31 PM on November 8, 2009

It's used for social networking stuff. If you become friends with someone you see their full name.

But I don't want random people on the internet to see my full name (and neither do any of the rest of you, as far as I can tell). If I wanted to ask questions to people who know my full name, wouldn't I just go on Facebook and ask them? Color me confused. And I still haven't gotten an answer to my question! Bah humbug.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:37 PM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

your full name doesn't show...

I was curious, signed up, asked a question I knew the answer to, got a good answer in two minutes...
posted by HuronBob at 5:39 PM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I ran a test question there and on AskMe. Admittedly it was a tough question (essentially "Can you identify this insect from vague childhood memories?"), but AskMe succeeded (sort of), with about 9 mostly useful responses within 24 hours. I got one response on Aardvark in that time, someone responding to tell me that they had no idea.

Still, I imagine this is a critical mass kind of thing. AskMe has a pretty big user base, and that makes all the difference in the world. (It's not the only thing, of course. You also have to find a way to filter out the dumb-asses and tone down the smart-asses. I haven't asked enough questions to figure out if they have solved this particular problem.) Almost all the questions I've been asked so far are things that can be answered with Google or Wikipedia without too much difficulty (although maybe not if you're asking from a phone). Perhaps it will get better with time.

In the meantime, I'm having fun answering questions.
posted by ErWenn at 5:48 PM on November 8, 2009

I half signed up (I forgot why I never finished) about a month ago. None the less, they sent me a question to answer and I answered it. It's no AskMe.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:48 PM on November 8, 2009

If I wanted to ask questions to people who know my full name, wouldn't I just go on Facebook and ask them?

You are kind of coming at this from a different angle than Aardvark is. The service is built to give quick answers to questions, and one of the ways they find good people to answer the questions is analyzing your friends. Once you are friends with someone you don't ask them questions directly, you ask questions to the big Aardvark question box, and they might find better people to answer your question if you have a bigger social network of friends and friends and friends.

Does that explain it? Aardvark is werid, but it totally kept me occupied on a lazy afternoon.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 5:50 PM on November 8, 2009

I was curious, signed up and asked a straightforward question "Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?".

Still no response.
posted by shoebox at 5:51 PM on November 8, 2009 [8 favorites]

The only thing I know about Aardvark is that it has Twitter integration, which never fails to drive me bugfuck when someone I know goes on an answering spree. (Bonus points for the automated notification not using a hash tag, which makes it that much harder to filter out.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:52 PM on November 8, 2009

I was curious, signed up and asked a straightforward question "Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?".

Still no response.

Tell me how "how is babby formed? how girl get pragnent" goes.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 6:08 PM on November 8, 2009

I give it a week before it goes to total suckassness. Omegle went to crap in about 1 day...
posted by spiderskull at 6:34 PM on November 8, 2009

I've been using it for about 4 months. I got an invite somehow. I answer questions mostly, and it is a nice 2-3 minute diversion to try to think of an answer to a question Aardvark sends my way.
posted by reenum at 6:49 PM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

How does Aardvark motivate and reward people for answering questions?
posted by catchingsignals at 6:50 PM on November 8, 2009

"How does Aardvark motivate and reward people for answering questions?"

It was either the hooker that showed up at my door 10 minutes after I answered that question, or the good feeling of helping someone...
posted by HuronBob at 6:56 PM on November 8, 2009

I've been on the betas of this for a while, and still have mixed emotions about it all. The biggest thing is that it is much more direct compared to AskMe -- you'll be working away and then your IM will interrupt you with someone asking about 17th century philosophy, and you do feel obliged to answer. If you get a one each day, it can feel pretty onerous for very little return. I'll happily answer questions daily here and only ask once a blue moon, but if AskMe interrupted me every day, I'm not sure I'd be quite as tolerant.

That said, in all that time I've only had two completely inane questions, and if you type "google", it tells the asker to get bent, essentially. I have had about three shoebox-style questions and those are much more frustrating, but if I just respond politely people generally realise that their pissing about interrupted an actual other person, and have always been apologetic so far.

For questions I've asked the results have been much less rewarding. Very often, you get a reply that's about as useful as the didn't-read-the-question-doesn't-understand confused first poster on AskMe, and then you feel like you've shot your wad for nothing.

I sound a lot more down on the system here than I mean to: it's been rewarding when I've been able to help out someone with something esoteric, and it's nice getting the little (anonymised) messages back from them. I'm not sure I'll be asking a whole lot of questions of it, but I like having the option.
posted by bonaldi at 6:57 PM on November 8, 2009

reenum: can you set how many questions (maximum) you get in a day? Do you just answer them out of the goodness of your heart, or do you find the questions themselves interesting? And do you get any feedback or thank-you from the person you helped? (Heh, now I'm asking you to answer questions.)
posted by catchingsignals at 7:01 PM on November 8, 2009

HuronBob: Oh I know, but

If you get a one each day, it can feel pretty onerous for very little return.

That's what I was thinking. I had this idea about combining AskMe with the six degrees of separation thing a while back (many people have thought the same I'm sure), and that was one of the problems I ran into while thinking through it - how to sustain it and make it rewarding for people to answer questions for the long term? Maybe Aarkvark has solved it.
posted by catchingsignals at 7:07 PM on November 8, 2009

It delivers what it promises: mediocre answers to mediocre questions.
posted by Taft at 7:13 PM on November 8, 2009

This sounds like an idea that would only work on a limited scale and with the right user base. Once a service like this becomes large enough, the advertisers and everyone with an agenda to push inevitably crawl out of the woodwork, and asking for an honest answer about a good restaurant in San Jose or about web hosting recommendations for your small business becomes impossible. I'll stick to AskMe for now.

Sorry, website I never heard of until 10 seconds ago, it's going to take more than that to earn my trust.

In all fairness, you just need an extra email/IM account to create a profile. It wouldn't be hard to create a profile that isn't linked in to your personal information.

I was curious, signed up and asked a straightforward question "Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?".

Still no response.

Weird. Omegle was able to give me several useful answers to that question almost immediately. Huh, must be something to do with the user base...
posted by Avelwood at 7:33 PM on November 8, 2009

You can set the frequency of questions in a very vague way (all the time, a few times a day, every day or two, about once a week). But this is really erratic. I've gone days with no questions, and then I'll get 5 or 6 in one day. Most questions I just pass on if I don't think I can figure out the answer quickly. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be able to tell if I'm actually online or not, and I'll frequently log on in the morning to find that someone asked me a question in the middle of the night.

I have gotten interesting questions (e.g. "what is the origin of the -rama suffix as in bowl-o-rama?") Sure, I just went to etymonline.com and looked up the answer, but it was a mildly interesting one.

I think the thing that strikes me as most awkward is that I don't really know what it's doing with my question. How many people does it send the question to before giving up? If someone "answers" the question by saying that they have no idea (as opposed to using the "pass" command), does it consider things settled? It doesn't actually ask you if the answer was any good, so I really have no idea.

Some of the details need some ironing out. I'm not sure what the social networking aspects of the site bring to the problem.
posted by ErWenn at 7:41 PM on November 8, 2009

I've been using Aardvark for a while now. I've only asked one question, but I answer 3-4 daily. The only issue I have so far is that too many questions about angst and depression get flagged under philosophy, so I usually end up retagging the user's question after I make a stab at answering it with something to the effect of "Get therapy, not a self help book." That I can retag the question is a great feature though, because it lets other users answer the question who otherwise wouldn't have gotten the question asked to them.
posted by strixus at 7:41 PM on November 8, 2009

I usually answer the questions that I know about, but the system does ask me questions I have no idea on, such as "17th century philosophy", etc.

It's a good idea, but the user base needs to expand. Then, it will be an awesome resource.
posted by reenum at 8:00 PM on November 8, 2009

I asked it "How long will this website be up, before everybody forgets about it?"

To which it replied: "Sign up and we will tell you"

What I heard: "Until tomorrow."
posted by QueerAngel28 at 8:31 PM on November 8, 2009

Does this make anyone else immediately think of the Usenet Oracle? no? and has anyone seen my dentures?
posted by hattifattener at 9:37 PM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wait, you can type "google" and it will tell people to buzz off?! I've been on the beta for a while and am a pretty big fan of the service, but I noticed a distinct increase in the number of "let me google/wiki that for you"-type questions since the iPhone app launched.
posted by one.louder.ash! at 9:59 PM on November 8, 2009

How does Aardvark motivate and reward people for answering questions?

I signed up about six months ago. A few months later, I still couldn't come up with an answer to this question.

In July, they offered to make me an "Aardvocate," which is basically a super-user who gets access to the new features first. Here's a direct quote from the email they sent me:

The most important thing is to help maintain the community spirit on Aardvark by showcasing our "etiquette", so that new users can follow your lead:
- referring questions when you don't know the answer (type 'refer')
- tagging questions if they're mis-labeled (type 'tag')
- always thanking people who answers your questions (type 'thanks')
- flagging inappropriate questions (type 'flag')
- and asking questions with lots of detail or personal context

I responded by asking: What's in it for me? The response was:

We often invite our Aardvocates to use new features before the rest of our users. Actually being an Aardvocate isn't a time commitment on your part--it's basically a way of saying that you'd like to stay more connected with the community, be able to be an early tester, etc.

So I declined.

Metafilter is proof that it is possible for a for-profit enterprise to fuel itself with the free labor of thousands of people. But few others have gotten the formula right, and I don't think Aardvark is headed in the right direction, either.
posted by bingo at 11:53 PM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just used it for the first time. I asked "Does anyone know of science labs (a molecular biology lab to be exact) using wikis to store protocols and test results?" and immediately received a useful answer, so my first impression is that it is useful.

The biggest thing is that it is much more direct compared to AskMe.

As a question asker, this "directness" kind of appealed to me; retrieving answers from my email account was certainly convenient. As an answerer (which I am yet to become) I can definitely see how this "directness" could become an annoyance... depending on your work style (i.e., whether you're comfortable with frequent interruptions).
posted by ergibson at 12:20 AM on November 9, 2009

I just tried Omegle, and this was the outcome:

You're now chatting with a random stranger. Say hi!
Stranger: are u gay
You: Um. No
You: Are you?
Your conversational partner has disconnected.

Why do I have a feeling this is how 90% of conversations go on that site.
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 9:41 AM on November 9, 2009

bingo: Maybe Aardvark will get it right through trial and error, or maybe someone else eventually will - it's an idea with a lot of potential though. I also wonder how they deal with bad answers, trolls, spammers etc.
posted by catchingsignals at 10:17 AM on November 9, 2009

The Aardvark / AskMe comparison is definitely something their rhetoric might think is reasonable, but in practice they're very different beasts. I've been a medium-active Aardvark user for a while, and like strixus I've asked very few questions but answered quite a few.

For starters, it's no competition to AskMe or even Yahoo Answers. The core problem with it, relative to either of those services, is that it pushes a question out to only one or two people at a time, waits for them to answer, and if they pass on the question, they try someone else. This means that high-expertise questions just won't get answered. Aardvark's model of what I know about is way too vague to figure out that I'd be good at talking about undergraduate engineering education or how you should hash users' passwords in your web application database. So basically, if you ask some relatively specific question, it's going to ask your friends first (who you would have asked directly if you thought they knew the answer, and who are likely to have similar expertise as you, anyway) and then do a random walk through their user base and hope to hit someone who knows what you need. This isn't just a problem for askers, it's also a problem for answerers. I think a big part of what drives participation in AskMe is feeling like you're really well placed to answer something specific. So when there's a question about your particular obscure hobby or interest, it's fun to answer that stuff. Of all AskMe questions, I have something useful to say about probably less than 2%, but I can super quickly skim 50 questions to find that one that is about spending an awesome night in my favorite city. Aardvark doesn't offer that, so I pass on most questions because they're just not for me. That makes the answering process really unsatisfying. I haven't had any questions where I felt like I was really the best person to answer them, whereas for many AskMe posts, I did get that feeling.

There are also clear pressures not to spend a lot of time on answers. My first AskMe question was a complicated and high dimensional question that people clearly spent a non-trivial amount of time thinking about / writing up responses. An IM client just isn't a good place to write that stuff.

This doesn't mean it's useless, just that the kinds of questions that are going to succeed in Aardvark are totally different than what work in AskMe. It's not about assembling a canonical answer to a particular question. I'm not sure what it's really for yet, but it's been really fun to watch people try different kinds of questions. Some of the most interesting and surprising questions have been things like (and I'm just paraphrasing here):
  • Do you know any startups interested in hiring someone who knows a lot about PHP?
  • Does someone want to play co-op Resident Evil with me right now?
  • What should I name my new WoW character?
This kind of stuff would never ever fly on AskMe, but works okay in an Aardvark context. The "come play with me" question, in particular, is intriguing. Because Aardvark ostensibly tries to crawl your social network to encourage responses, that seems like a great way to meet people with similar gaming interests. The WoW question is totally chatfilter, but it's the kind of thing that lots of people feel like they could answer, so you don't have the expertise problem.

In the long run, though, Aardvark seems to really want to be more like AskMe than the strange new hybrid it actually is. We'll see if they start to acknowledge what they might be better placed to do — real time loose-ties support — or if they try to build in the community structures that make AskMe work so well.
posted by heresiarch at 1:02 PM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]

I started to use aardvark a few months ago. Mostly I answer, but sometimes I ask.

You can type mute and it will stop asking you questions about that topic, so now it knows I am useless for questions about MySQL or whatever that is.

You can also assemble your own list of tags, for the topics you feel comfortable approaching.

I will say, I got really tired of seeing 'what should I be for Halloween?' over and over. So, I started telling everyone to be a 'dick tater' and gave basic 'attach potato near your groin' instructions.

I invited several friends, but not many actually joined.
posted by bilabial at 2:31 PM on November 9, 2009

I tried using it for a while now... and have not found it to be useful at all. I've asked a few questions and gotten answers that I didn't think were very thoughtful. I answered a few questions, and I didn't even get a "thank you" for my effort (which is very unlike AskMe). Now Aardvark randomly pings me with YahooAnswers-like questions -- questions that anyone could answer (but that are not really what I'd call "good questions" for a hivemind).

Maybe I haven't given Vark enough info to target me for better questions/answering, but I don't really see a reason to tell Vark anything -- I expect magic! :)
posted by mhh5 at 12:01 AM on November 10, 2009

I'm on there as an Aardvocate (haven't really seen anything that different from being a normal Aadvark user). It is a bit hit-or-miss - I get a lot of questions I can't answer, and I have had the occasional troll. But it's useful for quick ponderings, or if you're trying to recall a name or something in a different language.
posted by divabat at 2:10 AM on November 10, 2009

I've used it to get tipps and tricks about towns I go to. Stuff that usually only local people know - free car parks, good small restaurants and so on. Always worked fine, even though I did have to re-submit certain questions a few times.
posted by dominik at 8:15 AM on November 13, 2009

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