in the future. This is very much like the real-world model
of social information sharing: the person asking a question, or the intermediary in Aardvark’s role, is careful not to
impose too much upon a possible answerer (Figure 2). The
ability to reach out to an extended network beyond a user’s
immediate friendships, without imposing too frequently on
that network, provides a key differentiating experience from
simply posting questions to one’s Twitter or Facebook status message.
In order to play the role of intermediary in an ongoing
conversation, Aardvark must have some basic conversational intelligence in order to understand where to direct
messages from a user: is a given message a new question, a
continuation of a previous question, an answer to an earlier
question, or a command to Aardvark? The details of how the
Conversation Manager manages these complications and
disambiguates user messages are not essential, so they are
not elaborated here; but the basic approach is to use a state
machine to model the discourse context.
In all of the interfaces, wrappers around the messages
from another user include information about the user
that can facilitate trust: the user’s Real Name nametag,
with their name, age, gender, and location; the social
connection between you and the user (e.g., “Your friend
on Facebook,”, “A friend of your friend Marshall Smith,”
“You are both in the Stanford group,” etc.); a selection of
topics the user has expertise in; and summary statistics of
the user’s activity on Aardvark (e.g., number of questions
recently asked or answered).
Finally, it is important throughout all of the above interactions that Aardvark maintains a tone of voice which is
friendly, polite, and appreciative. A social search engine
depends upon the goodwill and interest of its users, so it is
important to demonstrate the kind of (linguistic) behavior
that can encourage these sentiments, in order to set a good
example for users to adopt. Indeed, in user interviews, users
often express their desire to have examples of how to speak
or behave socially when using Aardvark; as it is a novel paradigm, users do not immediately realize that they can behave
in the same ways they would in a comparable real-world situation of asking for help and offering assistance. All of the
language that Aardvark uses is intended both to be a communication mechanism between Aardvark and the user and
an example of how to interact with Aardvark.
Overall, a large body of research2, 6, 7, 22, f shows that when
you provide a one-to-one communication channel, use real
identities rather than pseudonyms, facilitate interactions
between existing real-world relationships, and consistently
provide examples of how to behave, users in an online community will behave in a manner that is far more authentic
and helpful than pseudonymous multicasting environments
with no moderators. The design of the Aardvark’s UI has
been carefully crafted around these principles.
In this section, we take a qualitative look at user behavior
on Aardvark. Figure 3 examines three questions sent to
f Names and affiliations have been changed to protect privacy.
(Reply from Nick to Mark)
you're very welcome. hope the days they're
open for lunch work...
(+ 4 minutes -- Answer from Nick T./28/M/
SanFrancisco,CA -- a friend of your friend
fringale ( fringalesf.com) in soma is a good
bet; small, fancy, french (the french actually
hang out there too). Lunch: Tuesday -
Friday: 11:30am - 2:30pm
(Question from Mark C./M/LosAltos,CA)
I am looking for a restaurant in San
Francisco that is open for lunch. Must be
very high-end and fancy (this is for a small,
formal, post-wedding gathering of about 8
(Reply from Mark to Nick)
Thanks Nick, you are the best PM ever!
(+ 1 hour -- Answer from Fred M./29/M/
Quince is a little fancy... La Mar is pretty
fantastic for cevice - like the Slanted Door of
(+ 7 minutes -- Answer from Paul D./M/
SanFrancisco,CA -- A friend of your friend
For business dinner I enjoyed Kokkari
Estiatorio at 200 Jackson. If you prefer a
place in SOMA i recommend Ozumo (a great
(Question from James R./M/
What is the best new restaurant in San
Francisco for a Monday business dinner?
Fish & Farm? Gitane? Quince (a little older)?
(Reply from James to Paul)
thx I like them both a lot but I am ready to try
(+ 10 minutes -- Answer from Bob F./M/Mission,SF -- you are connected through Mathias' friend
Samantha S.) Cool question. Spork is usually my top choice for a first date, because in addition
to having great food and good really friendly service, it has an atmosphere that's perfectly in
between casual and romantic. It's a quirky place, interesting funny menu, but not exactly nontraditional in the sense that you're not eating while suspended from the ceiling or anything
(Reply from Brian to Anthony) Tommy as in the Who's rock opera? COOL!
(+ 6 minutes -- Answer from Anthony D./M/Sunnyvale, CA -- you are both in the Google group)
Take her to the RO TL production of Tommy, in the Mission. Best show i've seen all year!
(+ 4 minutes -- Answer from Dan G./M/SanFrancisco,CA)
Start with drinks at NocNoc (cheap, beer/wine only) and then dinner at RNM (expensive,
across the street).
(Question from Brian T./22/M/Castro,SF) What is a good place to take a spunky, off-the-cuff,
social, and pretty girl for a nontraditional, fun, memorable dinner date in San Francisco?
(Reply from Brian to Dan) Thanks!
figure 3. three complete aardvark interactions.
Aardvark during this period, all three of which were categorized by the Question Analyzer under the primary topic “
restaurants in San Francisco.” 6
In Example 1, Aardvark opened three channels with candidate answerers, which yielded one answer. An interesting
(and not uncommon) aspect of this example is that the asker
and the answerer in fact were already acquaintances, though
only listed as “friends of friends” in their online social graphs;
and they had a quick back-and-forth chat through Aardvark.
In Example 3, Aardvark opened 10 channels with candidate answerers, yielding three answers. The first answer
came from someone with only a distant social connection to
the asker; the second answer came from a coworker; and the
third answer came from a friend of friend of friend. The third
answer, which is the most detailed, came from a user who has
topics in his profile related to both “restaurants” and “dating.”
One of the most interesting features of Aardvark is that
it allows askers to get answers that are hypercustomized to
their information need. Very different restaurant recommendations are appropriate for a date with a spunky and
spontaneous young woman, a post-wedding small formal
family gathering, and a Monday evening business meeting—
and human answerers are able to recognize these constraints. It is also interesting to note that in most of these
examples (as in the majority of Aardvark questions), the
asker took the time to thank the answerer for helping out.
The following statistics give a picture of the current usage
and performance of Aardvark.
Aardvark was first made available semi-publicly in a beta
release in March of 2009. From March 1, 2009 to October