Google Labs Aardvark

Old Aardvark Website
Screen Capture

Aardvark was a quirky little social-cloud answering service that Google purchased in 2010 for $50 million. It became yet another failure in Google's quest for social media dominance. 

Users registered for an account and indicated areas of expertise, with the intent of mainly answering quick questions off the top of their heads. All users could then ask questions which would be fielded to people who theoretically had some expertise in the area. Aardvark relied mainly on instant messaging and used email as a secondary contact method. This contrasted with other question answering services, like Yahoo! Answers and Answerbag, which were web-based. 

Aardvark also allowed you to use your social connections for the fielding of questions, so your Facebook, Gmail, and other contacts would be imported and prioritized for answers, but only in areas where they had expertise. This routing of questions to experts was also fairly innovative for the product.

Google's previous attempt at a question and answer service, Google Answers, was one of the early Google initiatives to get cut. Unlike Google Answers, which paid people to research and answer questions, Aardvark relied on unpaid experts and their social willingness to answer each others' questions. Aardvark also could instant message users with new questions or answers or email them to try to engage them with the service.

Google has been struggling to create good social services for a while, and this was one of many failed experiments down that path, though one could argue that acquiring the people behind the product may have served them better than the product itself. 

Why It Failed 

Officially, Google just said that they were shutting down a lot of smaller projects in order to simplify the Google user experience. It joined a very long list of products that were shut down at the same time or had their features collapsed into features of other, more popular Google projects.

The Aardvark team was mostly moved to Google+.

It wasn't that the idea was bad. It was just a product that shrank on you instead of growing. It was an annoying time-suck.

For a while, you could answer quick questions a couple times a day just to get a feel for it. Then you would get constant instant messages telling you that you had a new question. Occasionally, you would get reminder emails. If you didn't have any questions to ask, this is a relationship that would get lopsided very quickly. You'd see a steady stream of questions and prompts and nags to answer those questions. There was no obligation to answer each question, but it still took a lot of time to parse through them. ​

We don't know if our experience was typical, but we doubt it was all that atypical. Most likely, people tended to be either askers or answerers, and after a while, that can really feel like a parasite-host relationship instead of a social experience. Add a plucky aardvark that auto messages you until you figure out how to turn that service off, and it's a recipe for annoyance.

Aardvark may have influenced the crowdsourcing methods used in other Google products, but the Aardvark service itself was plunked into Google Labs upon acquisition and killed along with many other Google Labs projects.