Ask Google?

April 29th, 2009 Leave a Comment

Ask Jeeves launched in 1996? I'm old.Remember when Ask Jeeves launched?

The premise was simple. Instead of munging your search into keywords and hoping for the right result set, all you had to do was ask Jeeves a real question. If you remember that, you’ll also remember that it didn’t work very well.

Google just announced they have indexed public data sets on population and unemployment which can be searched and graphed easily from Google by using either “population” or “unemployment rate” plus a state name. It actually works with “usa” too.

Google brings back the information, which isn’t new. You can do the same query with countries as well. The new part is the graphing features. The first result is a mini-graph plus the current data point, and clicking through takes you to an interactive motion chart that plots the data for the state you queried on a graph.

You can compare with other states, down to individual counties and against the entire US. Very cool stuff obtained from Google’s acquisition of Trendalyzer in 2007. You may recall, Paul and I are big fans of Hans Rosling’s TED talk, which showcases the awesomesauce of Trendalyzer.Decided to embed that TED Talk, so worth it.

Back to the point, Google already does a host of Q&A type stuff that you probably don’t know about or use, like find movie showtimes and reviews, convert currencies, perform math, check your spelling and answer questions by filling in the blank.

Is this another step toward keeping the traffic by making Google a destination, or is it a shot in the search as AI war that’s brewing? Didn’t get that? I didn’t either, but apparently, Google announced this the same day Wolfram Alpha was demoed.

I wonder if it even matters. Search engines have always been an integral part of the ‘tubes, and we’ve changed our behavior to account for their inadequacies, e.g. the average Google search contains more keywords than five or ten years ago and the average person resubmits keyword combinations several times until the best result set is returned.

Do we really want a question-answering machine? I doubt I’ll use this feature much, but like the other Easter Egg search features, I like knowing it exists.

Your thoughts?


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