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Why Aardvark’s Social Search Engine Might Suffer from “Participation Fatigue”

Let me ask you something, are you happy with the search results you receive from Google?

If you were to guess how often Google gives you exactly the result you were searching for–on your first search query–what would that look like? 40% of the time? 60%? 90%?

I’d say that for me, Google gives me precisely what I was looking for, less than 50% of the time–at least out of the gate. I find I have to refine my query before I get the desired set of search results.

Would I be better off asking my network of friends? Social search engine Aardvark’s new research paper suggests that might be the case:

70.4% of answers were deemed to be ‘good’, with 14.1% as ‘OK’ and 15.5% were rated as bad.

So, if you stretch it here, almost 85% of Aardvark users were satisfied with the answers provided to them by their network of peers. That’s not too shabby, right?

It’s even more impressive when you consider that Aardvark users tend to use the service for those really complex search queries:

The average query length was 18.6 words (median of 13) versus 2.2-2.9 words on a standard search engine…98.1% of questions asked on Aardvark were unique, compared with between 57 and 63% on traditional search engines.

Combined with the revelation that more people use Aardvark on their cell phones than their desktops–which some predict is the future hot area for search–and you could easily surmise that Aardvark is poised to kick Google’s butt.

Ah, but this wouldn’t be a Marketing Pilgrim post if there wasn’t at least a little cynicism. ;-)

For Aardvark, its Achilles heel is something I’ve dubbed "participation fatigue."

You see, what happens when the novelty of Aardvark wears thin? What happens when the site’s user base grows beyond the current 90,361? What happens when the thinly sliced group of users that answer questions, get overwhelmed and start dropping out?

86.7% of Aardvark users had been asked by Aardvark to answer a question, of whom 70% actually looked at the question and 38% could answer.  50% of all members had answered a question (including 75% of all users who had ever actually interacted with the site), though 20% of users accounted for 85% of answers.

Google doesn’t suffer from participation fatigue–it’s spiders and algorithms never grow weary of answering your questions. Aardvark’s future is bright, but the dark cloud on the horizon is its reliance on humans. Humans that have a tendency to get bored easily and move on. If it can overcome that, then it might have a shot.