Image via CrunchBase Barely two days after launching Buzz, the social networking feature for Gmail, Google bought the social search engine Aardvark for $50 million on February 11. This acquisition is part of Google's strategy of going social in order to compete with Facebook and Twitter. Aardvark is a social search engine founded in July 2007 by former Google employees. The San Francisco startup, which launched its service in private beta in 2008, allows web users to ask questions which are then distributed through their social network and sent to someone who can answer them.

The question you submit is automatically sent to your friends or to your friends' friends based on what they say they have knowledge of. That is to say the information they published on their profile such as their location, hobbies or age. In this way Aardvark can provide quick and relevant answers given by real people from your extended network.

This service is unique and totally different from services such as Yahoo Answers where an anonymous mass of people tries to answer your question, resulting most of the time in spam. Aardvark sends the question to the most appropriate person(s) in your social network via email, SMS, instant messaging, Twitter or the iPhone. Aardvark says the response time for answers is about 10 minutes on average.

To expand its reach, Aardvark launched a Facebook application in June 2009 and integrated with Twitter in July 2009. The Twitter integration is simple. By posting your question on Twitter and adding @vark at the end, Aardvark picks it up and redirects it to the person in your network who is the most likely to answer.

This acquisition seems to be perfectly consistent for Google as the success of social sites is a real threat for them, especially as they encroach upon Google's main business: search. By buying Aardvark, the Mountain View company integrates a new service that allows it to get a handle on the flood of real-time user-generated content.

Google is not yet ready nor adapted to go into a purely social activity such as Twitter or Facebook offer. It is thus the perfect acquisition for Google, as Aardvark is only dedicated to search and focuses on real-time socially-generated information rather than providing information about friends' private lives.

By Julien Rougerie