Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) is getting more social.
According to blogger TechCrunch, The Big G last week bid $50 million for Aardvark, a search engine that allows users to ask questions of, and get answers from, friends they're connected to on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.
This is a brilliant buy for Google, in that it fills gaps as it challenges competitors. For all the talk of Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Bing being a "decision engine," and for all the hype surrounding smart indexes such as Wolfram|Alpha and Hunch.com, there's no system that simply and directly answers questions. Aardvark gets close, because it relies on knowledgeable humans.
Google has been talking about social search for more than a year now, and I've advised Microsoft to offer such a service as well.
Here's how Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience, described the idea in an August 2008 interview with VentureWire:
In essence, it's a fusion of personalized and social search. In this case, what we would do is say: This Gmail account which maps to Marissa Mayer then maps to these other friends, allow those friends to influence this ranking ... But no, we have not done anything like that to date.
Aardvark doesn't fulfill this vision perfectly, but it gets close. In each case, friends are called upon to offer intelligence. Mayer's idea just happens to be more algorithmic.
Yet Aardvark could have its greatest impact on the technology front. It could transform Buzz, Google's just-released social network built upon the 100 million Gmail accounts active around the globe.
Imagine a button in Buzz that says, "Ask a question." Users could then decide to ask their network or the entire universe of Buzz participants -- or at least, those who've allowed for questions in their privacy settings. Every answer would make Buzz more valuable and Google more intelligent.
So far, Microsoft, Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) , IAC's (Nasdaq: IACI ) Ask, and AOL (NYSE: AOL ) have been content to treat social search as a nice-to-have "someday" project. Now, with Google grabbing Aardvark and taking Buzz to more than 100 million potential users, "someday" is today.
But that's my take. Now it's your turn to weigh in. Does getting Aardvark give Google a competitive advantage over rivals? Or is it an incremental buy that matters little in the broader battle for search supremacy? Make your voice heard using the comments box below.