Google As a Social Search Engine: Aardvark Answers & Circle Posts in Google Search Results?

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A Google patent application published in early May explains why Google might start showing social answers in Google search results. The basic premise is that some types of questions are best answered by library-type results, and others by a village paradigm approach to information retrieval. In a village, people disseminate knowledge socially, with information passed from person to person, and retrieving information involves finding the right person instead of the right document.

Here’s how a social answer to a query might appear in Google’s search results:

A screenshot from the patent that shows a social answer to a query about [san francisco hotels pets] in Google search results

Will social Questions & Answers (Q&A) service become part of Google’s push towards the use of social networking to help people find answers to their questions? I’ve seen speculation that such a Q&A service might become part of the newly launched Google +, and that this service might be based upon Aardvark, which Google purchased in February 2010. If you missed out on the acquisition of Aardvark, I wrote a little about it in Yahoo’s Social Search Answer to Google’s Aardvark?.

There I also pointed out the white paper that the team behind Aardvark published, The Anatomy of a Large Scale Social Search Engine (pdf). The title for that paper cleverly adopted part of the title from one of the papers that helped start Google, The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine. In a blog post, the Aardvark team wrote that they were inspired by the Google paper.

Now it appears that Aardvark-type social answers may become answers that appear in Google Search results, as seen in the Google patent application from May. Given Google’s latest foray into social networking, it’s also possible that a question and answer service based upon Aardvark might play a larger role in Google’s social networking applications.

I would go into more depth about how the question and answer service works here, but I think you might be better served by spending time with the Large Scale Social Search Engine paper. Instead, here’s the Google patent application:

Social Search Engine
Invented by Max Ventilla, Damon Horowitz, Robert J. Spiro, Nathan Stoll
Assigned to Google
US Patent Application 20110106895
Published May 5, 2011
Filed: October 29, 2010


Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on a computer storage medium, for a social search engine. In one aspect, a method includes receiving a question from an asker in which the question is associated with one or more topics; selecting candidate answerers based at least partly on each answerer’s respective relationship to the asker; sending the question successively to groups of one or more candidate answerers according to the ranking until an answer is received from a particular one of the candidate answerers; and sending to the asker the received answer and information that identifies the particular answerer.

The patent is assigned to Google, but the inventors listed are originally from Aardvark.

In the patent filing, we’re told that answers that were previously submitted to the Q&A system that are relevant to a search query might be included in search results. These answers would be taken from an archive of questions and answers, and either indexed by topics, or by sequences of words that appear in those answers.

Some of the ways that answers might be determined to be “relevant” may be if keywords appearing in queries are matched by those same keywords appearing in questions and answers. If a URL appears in an answer, and that URL is also included in a set of search results that are relevant to a query, that may also be a sign that a particular answer is relevant to the query as well.

Other signals may also be used to determine whether an answer from the Q&A archive is relevant to a search query.

Google Circle Stream posts in Search Results?

Not explained in much detail, we’re also told in the patent filing that content from other sources might be included as well, such as from blog posts and microblog posts. Would Google Circle posts be included in search results as well?

They might, but I see them having the most value if they were included in the Real-Time results that are sometimes presented in a scrolling frame in Google’s search results since their most value might be as timely tidbits of information relevant to something that may have happened recently.

If you’re interested in how those real-time search results are displayed by Google, a patent application published last week, Presenting Real-Time Search Results, provides some approaches that Google may be following to show off those results. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go into much detail in describing how Google determines which results to display, and filters out as possible spam.

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23 thoughts on “Google As a Social Search Engine: Aardvark Answers & Circle Posts in Google Search Results?”

  1. Interesting quote from patent: “As compared to a traditional web search engine, where the challenge lies in finding the right document to satisfy a user’s information need, the challenge in a social search engine is to find the right person to satisfy a user’s information need.”

    I wonder if they are going to be requiring and extensive profile of each user to make this pairing.



  2. Hey Bill.
    It seems like Google might be attempting to kill several birds with one social stone.
    Condense the services of others such as Facebook, Quara, Twitter, etc. into one social service… and then get users to switch over.

    It’s not at all far fetched to think they would win at this either. Forget about their capital, talent, and experience for a moment. Just from from a user’s perspective… I’d rather have one platform for searching, Q&A, tweets, posting, sharing, etc.

    I think this one platform experience has a real shot of winning, when combined with their existing user-base and the knowledge + resources to exploit it.

    Your thoughts?

  3. Twitter has been talking to Google about a similar arrangement, for this real time search thing

  4. The Web is getting more focused on social-ed, due to the bombing of Facebook Empire, that’s why Google is desperately stepping into the social networking industry.

  5. Thanks for the informative posts. They sure are attempting to kill several birds with one stone. If you don’t stay on top of Google, they and your competitors pass you buy. I just signed up with Aardvark to see what its all about. Thanks!

  6. Hi Bill,

    yes, this would definitely change the way how real time results are displayed in the search results..the long tail keywords in the blogs would be really useful..
    @Donnie i agree with you regarding a single platform for all reviews,tweets and searching

  7. Hi Donnie,

    Definitely more than one bird with the same stone.

    I think Google + has the potential to draw together a lot of the services that Google offers into one package, and a Google announcement from earlier this week stated that they would be renaming Blogger to Google Blogs, and Picasa to Google Photos. Considering Google + has a photo service attached to it, and that it basically expanded the amount of storage for photos to “unlimited”, we might possibly see both services integrated into Google +

    The Aardvark Q&A social search system might benefit tremendously from Google + as well, and we may start seeing social search results in our Web search results because of that.

  8. Hi Mark,

    You do need a Gmail account to use the Aardvark search, and to have a Gmail account, you need a Google Account. While you can include some information about you into your Google profile, I’m not sure that it’s necessary to explictly list too many things that you have an interest in to participate in their Q&A. You do need to include some fairly broad topics of the kinds of things that you would be willing to answer, but I don’t expect an extensive profile would be necessary. And if you do start answering questions, Google might learn more about the types of questions to send you based upon your answers.

  9. Hi Ralf,

    Right. The twitter/google agreement to include twitter results in Google Real Time results actually expired this past weekend. It’s possible that they may decide to renew it, but for now, Google stopped showing their real time results.

  10. Hi Norb,

    It makes a lot of sense for Google to explore social networking, especially since many of the services they’ve offered in the past have some social elements to them. Can they do it better than Facebook? Or just provide an alternative that appeals to people who may not like Facebook? Is it a fresh start for people who may have learned some lessons about social networking on Facebook and want to begin again? Or a chance for Google to provide a much more personalized search, based upon data that they’ve collected themselves instead of relying upon data from Twitter or Facebook or other social networks?

  11. Hi Stefan,

    It looks like realtime search is down so that it can be retooled. The twitter agreement to include tweets in real time may be renewed, or it may not be, but it definitely looks like Google will start showing Google + stream results in real time search results once it returns.

  12. Hi Jeff,

    You’re welcome. I signed up for Aardvark when Google first purchased it, and I had a question answered pretty quickly when I asked for a recommendation for a pizza place in my area. Interestingly the person who answered was located in California, but had lived in Northern Virginia for a number of years before moving out there.

    I wasn’t around when a number of questions were sent my way, and I haven’t seen a new question since, so I don’t know if my unavailability led to my not getting new questions or not.

  13. Thats funny you bring this up, because I have already started to see Tweets in the google search results.

  14. Hi Kent,

    Tweets have been showing up in Google search results for a couple of years now. Even with the expiration of the agreement between Google and Twitter to show tweets in Google real time results, and the hiatus that real time results are on presently at Google, Google has stated that they will be continuing to show tweets in their regular Web search results.

  15. I new to the web, so everything is new to me. Haha. I only had twitter for the past 2 months. Im waaay behind on a lot of things, but im catching up quickly

  16. Hi Kent,

    There are a lot of things going on upon the search results pages of the search engines these days, so it can be easy to miss things like that.

  17. Bill, You have to be the single best source for information on Google I have ever found! I have been watching and waiting for the Google social trend to get more into the game. I did miss the Aardvark acquisition so I am going to check out that system. Google will pull it off I am sure!

  18. Thanks Bill for this informative article. Google knows that its success depends on delivering the most relevant results. It is smart for them to use information from your friends because you are more likely to trust them and you probably have the most in common with these people.

    For example, a research scientist wants to find things to do while visiting San Francisco. Google can start with his friends on Facebook and see if any of them have reviewed or commented on things to do in San Francisco, if they find nothing, then Google can deliver results of any other research scientist who reviewed entertainment venues in San Francisco, displaying the results from people who resemble our research scientist the most, age, marital status, children, etc.

    I think it is genius.

  19. Wonder if all what google has will squeeze-in in Google Plus for the user, its interesting how we could always makes circles in Facebook too but it was never marketed well by them, google is just doing it right at the moment, its just going to get interesting from here.

  20. Hi David,

    The ability to create different levels of access to what you post and put on your facebook page is something that Facebook has had for a while now, but not something that they originally started out with. It’s also not quite as visually intuitive as what Google has come up with in Circles. Actually it’s much more of a focus on Google Plus than it ever was in Facebook.

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