I logged onto Aardvark--the human-powered question answering service that sends your queries to other human beings in your extended social network--today to ask the burning question everyone wants to know right before the holidays: Which is better, a Snuggie or a Slanket? While I was on the site, I looked at my profile, planning to edit the topics I wanted to ask questions about. And then my eyes wandered over to the right, and I thought to my self, Does Aardvark think I'm a greasy, smelly, hippie?
To wit, these were the topics Aardvark thought I might know something about:
Hippies? Mugwort? Marijuana? LSD? After being initially shocked, I realized right away there was a common thread running through these topics: all were subjects I'd brought up on Twitter. I didn't notice the full list right away. Many of them I was blind to because they're very topical right now (Tiger Woods, Black Friday, Wal-Mart) and I just assumed it was looking for someone to answer questions about things in the news. It was the pepper spray that gave it away.
I'd linked my Twitter and Aardvark accounts some time ago, but I only did so in order to ask questions via Twitter. (Which I've never actually done.) That was all that I was aware it did. But obviously there's another element. Not only is Ardvark following me on Twitter, it uses Twitter to learn what I talk about (and therefore am presumably knowledgeable about).
That explained the LSD and Marijuana, the hippie reference, and of course, mugwort. I do tend to talk about mugwort. (Full disclosure: I'm not even exactly sure what mugwort is. I assume it goes well with John the Conqueroo.)
I found it very smart. What would be even smarter--and perhaps it's already happening--would be if Aardvark asked me questions about topics that I had not self-identified as an expert, but that it determined I knew about via my patterns on Twitter.
Obviously, Aardvark isn't the only service mining Twitter to discover what we really think. But primarily, I hear about it in the context of advertising. It's great to see a company using it for something to make our experience better, and deliver a better service.