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Google Goes More Social With Aardvark Buy

Google has moved quickly to match moves by Microsoft and Yahoo in the social media space, adding Twitter feeds and other social content to its search results and its Gmail service. Now the company has acquired Aardvark, reportedly for $50 million, a startup whose founders include former Googlers.

Rather than the pure math-driven algorithms behind Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) results, Aardvark employs what it calls social search. The service is designed to connect registered users with the right person in the online network for answers to any of a wide range of queries from travel tips, restaurant and product review recommendations to career and relationship advice.

"Sometimes you want a person, not a Web page, to answer your question," Aardvark said in a blog post announcing the deal. "We're extremely excited that Google shares our vision for how search can continue to evolve by including social features."

Google has already added Aardvark to the list of services available at its Google Labs page, which features other novel applications and "experiments" users are free to try as opposed to more finished ones, like Google Apps, that it actively markets.

Aardvark's approach to search combines "our own vision with a rigorous user-driven development process," Max Ventilla and Damon Horowitz, two of the firm's four founders, wrote in the blog post.

With Google's backing, Ventilla and Horowitz said they expect to start working on improving the speed and quality of the service and add new features.

The news comes at a time when search companies are increasingly focused on figuring out ways to get users the most relevant answers to their queries rather than the standard 10 blue links on the results page that may just lead to more clicking and searching. Earlier this week, Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) held a press briefing that highlighted its efforts to integrate social media and deliver users the most timely relevant results.

Among other moves, Yahoo has created special pages for searches related to the Winter Olympics that provide stats, highlights, schedules and information about the competing athletes.

Another search competitor, Ask.com, has targeted popular search areas like recipes, sports, events and deals (coupons, etc.) to provide ready answers to specific queries.

"Google's purchase of Aardvark is simply an acknowledgement that Q&A is the future of search," Doug Leeds, Ask.com's president of U.S. operations, said in a statement.

Leeds also reiterated Ask's plans, detailed last year, to release a "Q&A community" that will answer user queries. "This community will reach search-engine scale -- able to handle more than a million questions a day, faster than Google or any of our competitors," he boasted.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.