Google Buys Search Startup Aardvark While Microsoft's Bing Gains

Google (GOOG), the dominant Web-search engine, has acquired Aardvark, a search startup founded by former Googlers, for a reported $50 million. Aardvark is a social-search engine that allows users to ask questions of their friends and friends' networks, and receive quick responses. The company, which has raised $6 million in venture capital, aims to improve Web search by incorporating personalized, relevant human expertise into the process.Aardvark CEO Max Ventilla confirmed to DailyFinance that the startup has been acquired by Google, but declined to provide more details. TechCrunch, which first reported the news, said the purchase price was about $50 million. As of October 2009, Aardvark had over 90,000 users.

Google's Aardvark acquisition comes just two days after the company announced Buzz, a set of social networking tools integrated into the company's Gmail product. If the company can figure out a way to incorporate Aardvark into Buzz, Google might have a better chance of prying users away from Facebook, the top social network.

Looking Inside Your Brain

In an interview with DailyFinance last fall, Ventilla said Aardvark aims to mine information at a deeper level than the Web. "What we're after is the information in your brain," Ventilla said, adding that the service answers "about 90% of questions in under five minutes."

In a recently issued research paper, Aardvark sought to distinguish "between the traditional 'Library' paradigm of Web search - in which answers are found in existing online content - and the new 'Village' paradigm of social search - in which answers arise in conversation with the people in your network." Aardvark is pioneering the latter model.

The service allows users to pose subjective questions -- such as, "What's the best Mexican food restaurant in the Mission district?" -- to their network of friends. "Whereas in the Library paradigm, users trust information depending upon the authority of its author, in the Village paradigm, trust comes from our sense of intimacy and connection with the person we are getting an answer from," the company wrote.

As part of its overall push into the social Web, Google's buy is smart -- but it hasn't always been successful at incorporating acquisitions into its business. The company killed Dodgeball, a mobile networking service, after buying it. Dodgeball's founder left Google and went on to start Foursquare, the current belle of the startup scene.

Google Still Dominant, But Bing Gaining Share

Meanwhile, Google remains far and away the dominant search engine, according to January comScore search market share numbers, but Microsoft's (MSFT) Bing is making impressive progress. Google accounted for 65.4%, down 0.3% from December. Yahoo (YHOO) also fell 0.3% to 17%. Microsoft picked up the slack, grabbing an additional 0.6% of market share to hit 11.3%. It was Microsoft's eighth consecutive monthly search share increase.

"Overall, the trends continue to be very strong for Bing, and remain very bad for Yahoo," Broadpoint AMTech internet analyst Ben Schachter wrote in a note to clients.

UBS internet analyst Brian Pitz called Microsoft's performance "impressive," and said in a research note that he expects Microsoft to continue to increase share at least through May 2010. Microsoft and Yahoo are waiting for the Department of Justice to approve a deal effectively combining their search operations, which would give them more scale as they try to chip away at Google's commanding lead. Pitz noted that "the combined Yahoo!/Bing entity had 28.3% share in Jan., down from 29.5% share" one year ago.
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