Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ode to Aardvark: Live on through those you've touched at Google and beyond

[Background note for those who may not be familiar with Aardvark: Aardvark was the company I co-founded in 2008 with Max Ventilla, Damon Horowitz, and Rob Spiro. Aardvark was the first social search engine, and allowed users to find people in their networks -- not web pages -- who had specific information they were looking for, and connect with them to receive answers. Aardvark's success at creating a unique social utility and knowledge sharing environment led to its acquisition by Google in early 2010.]

I'm proud of Aardvark, as it comes to an end. In learning this past holiday weekend of Google's announced plan to shut down Aardvark, I am touched by many memories of Aardvark and how special it was to so many people.

For me, Aardvark captured the amazing capacity for human generosity, and was effective because people desire to be heard and acknowledged. Aardvark was a channel for the best nature of the people it connected. While I'm sad to say goodbye, I believe Aardvark will live on through these same people it has touched.

There were many examples of the best of humanity in Aardvark. There was the person who told us that the best moment of her work day was when Aardvark pinged her over chat, as she felt more accomplished by spending a few moments providing an answer to friend of a friend, than everything else she had done all day. Answers were not always about dry intellectual matters; sometimes people just wanted a moment of levity, and would ask for and tell jokes, cheering each other up.

Aardvark also connected people in real life. There was a business visitor from out of town who asked for a good pub to take his co-workers to, and was personally greeted by the person who suggested the bar through Aardvark. And, as with most successful online communities, romantic relationships were sparked, in one case between a pair many degrees of friends and many miles removed, all because of a literary conversation they had after being connected through Aardvark.

Aardvark frequently found a way to brighten the days of those of us who became committed fans. In fact, the beloved Aardvark logo came to the team as an unsolicited gift from an Aardvark fan. All of these people, and many more, were the reasons we took Aardvark from a baby experiment to full-grown adult. The cute little Vark always felt alive because of the people it touched and connected, and how much they'd come to care for it.

I'm going to post a few more times over the coming days and weeks as I digest the end of Aardvark. I hope to share some of what I loved about the team, my co-founders, and the culture we created at our company. I also want to spend time talking about how great it was to be welcomed back as a returned Googler (ReGoogler?). I departed as planned last summer, (ReXoogler?) for reasons of my own that we all agreed on during the acquisition. And, I will share some of what I've been up to over the past year of traveling, teaching, advising, observing, and starting in on a new company.

But right now, I just want to say goodbye to a dear friend. I'm sad to see the end come for our burrowing mammal, but I believe Aardvark will live on. We will always remember, fondly, the friendships, knowledge, sense of community, and refreshing reminder of the human desire to help and connect that were Aardvark. I certainly will.


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