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aardvarkAardvark, a social search service, is opening to the public today and turning its homepage into destination for people’s questions.

The company, which started in 2007 and has grown to about 30 employees, offers a way to tap your social network for answers. You e-mail or IM Aardvark with a question and it sends it to people in your social network with expertise in that area. Out of that you get a couple responses, often within a few minutes.

The startup finds out who is a good fit by scanning a person’s Facebook page or Aardvark profile, where they list their interests. Aardvark says it has about 1 million topics covered and answers 90 percent of questions in under five minutes.

With today’s release, Aardvark is also offering more granular control over how you can be contacted for questions. If a user only wants to be reached through e-mail or on their phone or doesn’t want to be bothered too often by the service, they can set up permissions to limit Aardvark’s queries.

Co-founder Max Ventilla said he started Aardvark as a better way to answer subjective questions like “Where should I eat tonight?” or “What’s a good band?” In researching user behavior, the company found that the content of the actual search results mattered less than who answered the question.

The company has also been experimenting with different revenue models. It looks like the company may go down the well-trodden path of offering sponsored answers or text-ads that match queries. Or if a query seems to match a desire for a specific product or paid-service, the company could earn revenue from directing users to buy online at specific stores. If a person’s a bit earlier in the buying cycle, Aardvark could provide more of a brand-advertising experience and generate leads for matching businesses.

“We believe the search advertising model applies here,” Ventilla said.

Aardvark raised about $6 million last October in a first round of financing led by August Capital.


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