My little friend the “Aardvark”

Traditionally search engines have been the first place to go when you
are stuck on something technical. I do sometimes find it extremely
hard to put my search query into context and to try and sanitise it
for the sake of an algorithm that breaks it down into a sequence of
keywords which are then used to search a massive database. Google does
a very good job at this and it’s no surprise that it has become the
“Big Guy” on the web. People can instruct computers on what to do but
if you throw some garbled English at them, they don’t necessarily
understand what you are getting at. Especially when you are not
entirely sure yourself what it is you are trying to say or ask for!

Today I was given a large excel spreadsheet with a list of files that
have been removed from a system. My job was to go through them all and
check if they exist anywhere on the system. If I found any to delete
them and record this on the spreadsheet. To be frank, I had no idea
why I was given such a menial task but sometimes contractors have to
do such stuff. However sometimes an easy job is welcome… I decided
that there must be a tool I can use to do it for me and tried
“googling” it.

Initially I searched Google to see if it had any ideas, which it did
but none of them were in the slightest bit relevant. I asked around
the office and nobody knew of a way I could cheat at this either. It
was looking more and more likely that I would have to do something
manually, good grief, now that is not good.

So I turned to http://www.vark.com to see if it had any answers. I
simply asked it:

“I have an excel spreadsheet that lists file names to be deleted from
a server. Is there a tool that can use this data to search the server
for matches that then lists the files in a standard windows explorer
style view, so that I can back them up to CD and then delete them??” –
view the question and answer session at http://vark.com/t/76b85b.

The difference between Aardvark and Google is significant – The former
is driven by a network of people, a process known as “crowd sourcing”
all of whom specify their areas of topical knowledge. My question is
then sent to the first person in the chain and they are asked if it’s
a question they can answer. If they can, they have a go at providing
an answer if not, they simply “pass” on it and it goes to the next
person in the chain. Eventually the question is answered and I receive
this via email. I can then tick it off as being satisfactorily
answered or not. Naturally if the answer I’ve been given doesn’t help
the question then gets passed around more.

It is a clever system and earlier on I compared this system to Google,
would you be surprised if I were to tell you that Google Inc have
recently acquired the Aardvark technology? The company bought them for
a cool $50 Million dollars back in February.

Pundits suggest that ultimately the concept of “social search” will be
introduced to the Google search engine, to provide both data driven
answers to your queries and actual advice from real people alongside
each other. Now imagine how useful that would be?

Did it answer my question though?

Very nearly, someone suggested a great piece of software that could do
it and I shall be trying it out.

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