Nathan Roach


Lawyer, Advisor, Investor, Entrepreneur.


Vark.com Provides Answers (but is it better than Google?)

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I signed up for Aardvark (vark.com) recently and have been using it for about a month now. My question to answer ratio is skewed significantly towards answers, mostly because I'm still able to find most of what I need to know via Google or Wikipedia.

However, I can see value in using this service as a sounding board or for questions that require a subjective answer. It's also good for questioners who prefer plain-language questions over trying to construct a seach query.

On average, Vark asks me 2-4 questions per day and the majority of them are technology related. If you're like me and wind up acting as a tech support department for family and friends, you might be able to offload a lot of that work to Vark by directing your "user base" to Vark.

Vark also has a great "answer, busy, pass" function. When you get a question if you don't have time to answer you can just tell it busy or pass and it will direct the question to someone else. I find I'm much more willing to do a little research and answer a question when it comes with no strings attached.

Basically, Aardvark isn't going to replace your existing research sources but it's a fun tool that might just help you get answers to a question you wouldn't otherwise take the time to find on your own.

My vark.com link is http://vark.com/s/Br9k

 

And here's a review of the service from NY Times correspondent David Pogue:

There’s plenty of nastiness on the Internet–mean stuff, dirty stuff, snarky stuff–but there’s also an incredible amount of kindness and support to be found. Next time you’re looking for something wildly entertaining and enlightening to do online, check out a site like answers.yahoo.com or answerbag.com. On these sites, you can pose a question–any question at all–and crowdsource the answer. You watch and wait as the vast masses chime in with their opinions on your questions.

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Until recently, I’d been relying on Twitter for all my obscure-question-answering needs. Often I’d ask for help on some tweaky Photoshop filter setting or a detail of some 1950’s Broadway show–and sure enough, someone or other would always know the answer. But often, I’d get 60 replies, meaning I’d wasted the time of 59 people–and this technique doesn’t work at all if you don’t have a lot of followers.

Last week, I stumbled upon a new, better way to harness the Net for answers: Vark.com. You send your question to Aardvark (the full name of the service) using a chat program like Google Talk/Gmail Chat, AIM, MSN or Yahoo Messenger (an iPhone app is coming soon), where you’ve added Aardvark as a buddy. You can also send a question by e-mail to aardvark@vark.com or on Twitter. At the moment, you have to have a Facebook account before you can get started; that’s how Aardvark gets its initial idea of your social network.

The service makes no attempt to blanket the Internet with your question. In fact, it forwards your question only to people who have specifically declared themselves to have expertise on your subject–and, furthermore, only people who are already in your online social circle. If there’s nobody with expertise among that group, Aardvark extends its search to friends *of* your friends, and so on. Trust me, it works; I’ve never gotten a bad answer.

How does it choose who gets your question? It factors in “related topics in peoples’ profiles, how you’re connected to people, who you trust about related topics, your history of training Aardvark, people who share your favorites (for taste-related questions), people in the right location (for location-related questions), and other mysterious factors.”

I’ve used Aardvark several times apiece for professional and personal queries, and I’ve been astounded by its utility every time. The answers are on my screen between 60 seconds and five minutes after I’ve asked them: private, targeted, and generally accurate.

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