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Google Technology

Google To Answer Your Questions Directly 145

RabbitWho writes "Last week Google launched a redesign of its search results page, and is now introducing some changes to the content of its results too. The company says it will directly answer 'millions of different fact-seeking searches' with short answers at the top of its results. Search for 'Catherine Zeta-Jones date of birth', for instance, and the date shows up at the top, along with where Google is pulling the information from. Google says the feature is based on Google Squared, the experimental search tool it rolled out a year ago that gathers facts from the around the Web and presents them in an organized way. "
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Google To Answer Your Questions Directly

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  • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:51AM (#32191950) Journal

    No hits. Damn! Lots of porn hits though, so not a total loss.

  • I tried... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Codename Dutchess ( 1782238 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:57AM (#32192018)
    1 / 0. Now Google is down. :(
  • by lorenlal ( 164133 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:57AM (#32192020)

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  • bing (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    They should call this new feature "Bing"

    • Or maybe Wolfram:Alpha... [wolframalpha.com]
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by someone1234 ( 830754 )

        I asked: number of planets in solar system

        Of the three: wolfram, bing, google; only wolfram alpha has some faint idea what I actually look for.
        But wolfram only parsed 'planets' from the sentence.
        So, if i asked 'number of planets in the fridge', it answered the SAME.
        Still, a long way.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by grumbel ( 592662 )

          Yep, one thing I find a little surprising is that we already see those "question answering" features (as broken as they might be), while I haven't yet seen a search engine that lets you search for "things" instead of "words".

          When I search for "Saturn" I want the search engine to be able to tell the difference between Saturn the car, Saturn the planet, Saturn the gaming console and all the other Saturn that might be out there. One can often accomplish that manually by being a bit more specific (i.e. Sega Sat

          • by h3 ( 27424 )

            I've been playing around with duckduckgo and it does something like this. For example, the query for "saturn" at http://duckduckgo.com/?q=saturn [duckduckgo.com] starts off with

            Saturn can mean different things. Which one?
            (Some meanings grouped into sections Aircraft, ships and other vehicles, Arts and entertainment, Computing and electronics, Fiction, and Other.)

            I'm sure coverage for something like that is hit-or-miss at best, but it's pretty cool

        • If you ask "number of planets in the solar system" it works.

        • That's why I use Yahoo.

          First link:

          Solar System Exploration at NASA [nasa.gov]

          First few paragraphs:

          Our solar system is made up of a star - the Sun - eight planets, 146 moons, a bunch of comets, asteroids and space rocks, ice and several dwarf planets, such as Pluto.

          The eight planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

          Mercury is closest to the Sun. Neptune is the farthest. Remember the order of the planets like this: My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Neptune.

          There's also a gross-out version: My Very Early Morning Jam Sandwich Usually Nauseates. Why not make up one of your own?

  • Another new behavior (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Google always used to suggest corrections if it suspected your search was misspelled, a feature I appreciated. But now in some cases it automatically changes the search for you [google.com] and returns results for what *it thinks* you wanted to search for. Notice the mismatch between the search term and the search results; "axel" is a figure-skating jump, "axle" is "a central shaft for a rotating wheel or gear".

    Clippy, is that you??

    • In the good old days, everyone fought his own Clippy.

      In this brave new world, Clippy lives in the cloud, immortal.

    • by dlgeek ( 1065796 )
      I actually prefer the new behavior. My spelling can be poor sometimes, especially in cases where I'm trying to spell something I'm not very familiar with (which is why I'm using google in the first place). This new system saves me an extra click compared to the old one, but I can still override it easily.

      I'd even go so far as to guess that they switched the behavior after doing an analysis on the percentage of people who clicked the spelling suggestion they offered. Hell, it wouldn't suprise me if they ma
    • Um...You might want to look at those search results again. When I click on your link, I get the "did you mean axle?" link, but I also get a page full of figure skating (and skateboarding) jumps.

    • Try searching for "recursion", see what it suggests...
  • Bing (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward


    (Wolfram Alpha?)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by imakemusic ( 1164993 )

      Four o'clock already?

      *glances at pocket watch*

      Sorry old chap but it would appear your clock is wrong.

  • all google did (Score:3, Insightful)

    by circletimessquare ( 444983 ) <circletimessquare&gmail,com> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @09:06AM (#32192078) Homepage Journal

    is just rip off http://ask.com/ [ask.com]

    • Rip off? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Are you saying they actually took something that wasn't theirs without permission? Or are you just trying to demonize the natural human process of copying a useful solution one observes from others?

      • i think the idea of patenting business ideas is absurd

        but of course, the originator of a business idea deserves some recognition for being the first, and my comment is merely an attempt to give credit where credit is due

        google's chrome browser is also happily gobbling up and incorporating good ideas pioneered by firefox and opera and safari, and stealing their market share by using their own ideas against them. that's ok by me. mainly because google is also doing some things that firefox, opera, nor safari

        • Chrome also took its rendering engine from KDE, and I bet very few users know that.

          Firefox also copied a lot of ideas from Opera.

          I agree with the principle, but it would be a bit unwieldy to prominently list every idea you have copied.

          The other problem is that acknowledging the copying may weaken your position if someone bring a patent case against you.

        • but that doesn't mean i myself have to be ignorant of the true innovators in this world. nor should you

          You *think* you know that the developers Firefox, Opera and Safari created all those innovations. However, any given technological advance usually turn out to actually have been first created by some obscure 19th century Italian inventor who ended up dying penniless.

    • I don't think that Ask were the originators of the idea of a natural language search system.

      • they were the first to put it in the browser though. that makes what they did extremely significant

        sikorsky was not the first to engineer a helicopter, but the first to build one

        davinci was not the first to think of a helicopter, but the first to engineer one


        there's something like 22 guys who invented the lightbulb. what does that mean? it means that idea to actual widepsread use is not a simple path. innovation is not a binary subject matter. there are many fine grains of innovation in any subject ma

  • Isn't this what wolframalpha [wolframalpha.com] does? I wonder what those guys make of google muscling in on their turf (tho I suspect google's implementation won't have all the specialist maths and visualisation functions etc.)

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I think so. The truth is, I was very excited about wolframalpha when it became available. And then I realized I don't really need it.
      In the instances where I truly need to ask a question, it's usually too complicated, and I have to search for articles discussing a specific topic instead.

      • by grumbel ( 592662 )

        The problem is that Wolfram Alpha can't even do the simple things for which is has all the data it needs. For example I can't ask it for movies with a given set of actors. On top of that their stupid image-only results aren't even hyperlinked, so I can't even click on an actor to get more information.

        Having a powerful search engine for pop culture things could certainly be fun, but Wolfram Alpha just doesn't even get close. Now given, it wasn't build for pop culture, but for science, but it should still be

    • by bsDaemon ( 87307 )

      No, Google did a really crappy job of ripping off Wolfram Alpha. I did a side-by-side comparison of the example search. Google pretty much did what I would typically do for such a search on Google "wiki ", only it bolds the more-or-less relevant information. The answer was still cut off, though. Wolfram gave me a pretty no-nonsense answer, and none of the rest of the crap results. It did give me some rather precise, yet largely unrelated, astronomical facts about the date in question, though.

    • Re:Sounds familiar (Score:4, Informative)

      by bendodge ( 998616 ) <bendodge@bsgpr[ ... m ['ogr' in gap]> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @10:07AM (#32192814) Homepage Journal

      No, wolframalpha is a math search/AI thingy. You're thinking of TrueKnowledge [trueknowledge.com]. It's pretty cool, but it also hideously ugly. Which is a shame, because they had a pretty attractive design when it was a closed beta a few months ago.

  • This, and the left side search refinement panel Google have introduced, are both directly lifted from Bing. Google adopting it is probably going to make it tougher for Bing, having to come up with other differentiators to compete with Google, but nice to see that competition is working and driving innovation in the search space.
    • Google still doesn't have soothing pictures to prevent you from getting frustrated by THOSE LINKS!!
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by JoshuaJ ( 1757248 )
      Actually, Google started providing answers to specific questions (flight info, math problems, UPS tracking numbers) several years ago, long before either Bing or Alpha existed, and I seem to recall experiments with more general queries like birthdays. Now I guess they're expanding these existing features by integrating with the Google Squared Database. And this is fundamentally different from a product like Alpha, and very much in keeping with what google has always done best: find the information you're lo
  • by Ismene ( 680764 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @09:10AM (#32192128)
    This concerns me. If it is just a gathering of facts from the top sites - who is to say that information is even accurate. I find lots of sites that all reference each other with the same false information.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I tried it out. They don't just provide the fact, they say who the sources are (either domain name or, by clicking "Show Sources" the direct URLs). So if you find a fact on Google, you can check the sources to make sure it is reputable.

      • by Ismene ( 680764 )

        Yes, I saw that too. Have you not ever had the case where all the website that answer the question you want seem to reference themselves? Site A says it's true because Site B says it's true because site C says its true because site A says it's true.

        And then through your research you discover - shocking - it's not true!

        It happens ALL the time on the internet. And most people aren't going to be like me and search back to the original source.

        Another problem is how do you know it's a reputable site? I am a

        • I have an interesting example of that sort of thing.

          I was recently looking at the wikipedia page of a band I like, and it contained a claim as to their total worldwide record sales, followed by the legendary [citation needed]. I thought I'd be helpful and add the requested citation -- I was very sure I remembered reading that factoid in an interview with a certain magazine. Said magazine has online archives, so I rapidly found the interview in question, and.... um... no such statement. Oops. Not want

        • It happens ALL the time on the internet. And most people aren't going to be like me and search back to the original source.

          It happens offline too.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Try "genghis khan height"

      No misinformation here!

    • This concerns me. If it is just a gathering of facts from the top sites - who is to say that information is even accurate. I find lots of sites that all reference each other with the same false information.

      If there are lots of sites referencing each other with the same false information, then apart from the massive time it will save you, how is it different to you visiting all those sites individually and arriving at exactly the same answer? I think this is likely more going to be used by people wanting to find out the name of celebrity X's third husband than as a serious research tool. If it is used for the latter, I'd hope the researcher has the sense to verify the information and is merely using it to help

    • by JoshuaJ ( 1757248 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @10:17AM (#32192928)
      Indeed. This is why I never use the Internet. Who can trust anything on it? I only stick to carefully fact-checked sites like Slashdot.
  • Go, Greasemonkey, Go (Score:3, Interesting)

    by halcyon1234 ( 834388 ) <halcyon1234@hotmail.com> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @09:11AM (#32192132) Journal

    I was going to write a Greasemonkey script, but there's already a ton of them to address this bug.

    Here's one that seems to work: http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/76060 [userscripts.org]

  • Yeah... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pojut ( 1027544 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @09:11AM (#32192142) Homepage

    See, I like this idea...but the Google redesign is kinda nasty. I don't know if they are trying to emulate the way Bing looks, or if they are trying to fix something that wasn't broken...but something about it just isn't right.

    I know that doesn't make sense, considering that search results are MUCH less cluttered now than they were before...but something about it just doesn't feel like Google :/

    • Thats because you are used to the old interface, after a few days I personally prefer the new one.

      • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

        I don't. It looks like someone puked down half the screen. I'm not normally a person to care too much as long as I have an option, I have no option. Much like youtube, where their redesign is personally hated as a facebook rip-off. It's seems that in both cases, the redesigns are universally disliked, but good ol' google is being evil by not responding to consumer complaints over it. Other than "screw, you."

        • by D Ninja ( 825055 )

          It looks like someone puked down half the screen.

          Well...I wouldn't quite say that. It's different - that's for sure. But, I have seen puke on a screen (my roommate, freshman year, came back and got sick in front of his computer) and the Google redesign doesn't look like that.

          I'm not normally a person to care too much as long as I have an option

          So...that means you must care quite frequently as most websites/software/etc don't give you that much of an option on how THEIR interface looks. And, to be fair, you do have an option - go to a different search engine. Or, don't even use the main Google interface. There are many

          • Perhaps not universally, but of the feedback they're getting on the official forums I've seen a ratio of about 40 negative comments to one positive.

            Admittedly, there's a bit of a selection bias.

    • Re:Yeah... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2010 @09:50AM (#32192610)
      Use http://www.google.com/search?hl=all [google.com], problem solved. If you're using Firefox, just right click the search bar and select Add to search bar...
  • Searching for "albert einstein's birthday" yields no answer while "albert einstein date of birth" does. Not particularly useful to most people if it can't understand simple queries like that.
  • So Google will answer questions will it. Okay, how about; Question 1: Why is Youtube uncontactable by email when companies are deliberately taking the P with their copyright claims, because a video you uploaded has 5 seconds of something in a 10 minute clip they take down the whole clip AND trash your "account standing" with Youtube's idiotic three strikes rule. Question 2: Why does Youtube think it is acceptable for unaccountable companies to file bogus DMCA notices on videos, and then expect YOU to give
  • Goodbye google (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Personally I hate the redesign. Obviously whoever thought that adding a useless sidebar to the left side of the page has never used a netbook, the 'redesign' makes the search results about 5 words wide. I've been forced to use the google mobile site in the meantime, while I try to find a crap/clutterless search engine like google used to be. I've been growing more and more dissatisfied with google's search results, finding more and more of the results are less and less relevant to what the search query w

    • The netbook issue was the first thing that struck me with the redesign, too. It's totally baffling to me that, considering the explosion of popularity in netbooks over the last three or four years, Google would now switch to this uncomfortable layout.
    • by AdamHaun ( 43173 )

      I just don't understand why they would take up the left side of the screen with something I'll never use. I guess it looks like every other web site now, but I always appreciated Google's cleanness and simplicity.

  • I don't like it. It will kill some small sites.
    And then what's next? Google everything...yuck.

  • by nomadic ( 141991 )
    I'm lost. Google has already done this for years. Don't they mean they're just expanding it?
  • Michael Jordan — Height: 6 FT 2 in (1.88 M)
    According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Jordan_(footballer) [wikipedia.org]

    6'2"?? Footballer??? Google, that is weeeeak.
    • So has this been able to give any meaningful data other than celebrities? I'm not trolling here. This is a legit question. Is this the kind of thing that people are insanely searching for?

      Google knows how tall Michael Jordan is or at least makes an attempt, but some basic science type questions it has no idea about:

      - How far from earth to mars? Google: No idea, - Wolfram Alpha: 1.4AU along with all sorts of other stuff I didn't want to know.

      - How deep is the ocean? Google: No idea, - Wolfram Alpha: 10

      • I chose a celebrity query because it was similar to the query given as an example, but you make a good point. I don't think the Wolfram guys are too worried about this one...

        The main point of my original post was that the first thing I could think of to ask about came back with an inappropriate answer. Weird too, if you just google Michael Jordan you get "right" Michael Jordan, odd that height would default to the "wrong" Jordan.
    • Looks like somebody fixed that:

      Michael Jordan height — 6-6
      According to celebheights.com, yahoo.com, chacha.com and 1 other

  • by Rufus211 ( 221883 ) <rufus-slashdot@h ... minus herbivore> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @09:34AM (#32192400) Homepage

    Google has been answering simple questions since 2005. It was the first 20% time project a friend of mine worked on when he joined the company. I remember that if you asked it "where in the world is Carmen Sandiego" it inexplicably said "Cairo, Egypt". Here's a screen cap showing exactly that from 2005:
    http://www.capsgetpeeled.com/blog/archives/000473.html [capsgetpeeled.com]

    I remember Slashdot had an article about this back then and there's was a google blog or press release, but I can't find either. Anyone remember what this feature was called or have a link?

  • It's consistent with Google's almost-fanatic insistence on an uncluttered but useful search return. Personally, I like it.

    But it also reminds me of Murdoch bitching about news aggregators 'stealing' his content.

    Now Google will be accused of 'stealing' from everyone, without even giving them the possibility of some meagre ad revenue from a clickthru...

    Cue oblig 'Full Metak Jacket' quote:
    Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: I bet you're the kind of guy that would fuck a person in the ass and not even have the goddamn c

  • It even knows where my fucking keys [nerdnirvana.org] are.

  • i wonder what would be the answer to controversial questions, when several (and often conflicting) answers would be available?
  • Please, don't remove the binary and other geeky stuff from the browser search.
    I don't want to use english, wen theres something better than english. Also, machines are bad at understanding english.

  • Look up ``siphon'' in Oxford's English Dictionary --- for 99 years or so it's wrongly described the functional process as using air pressure, not gravity:

    http://www.aolnews.com/2010/05/11/for-99-years-oxford-english-dictionary-got-it-wrong/19472844/?icid=main [aolnews.com]|main|dl1|link7|http://www.aolnews.com/2010/05/11/for-99-years-oxford-english-dictionary-got-it-wrong/19472844/

    How will Google cross-check to make sure all ``facts'' aren't based on the same incorrect statement?


    • by jbengt ( 874751 )
      Although the downward leg of the siphon moves by gravity, the upward leg does indeed use air pressure to push it up. Try siphoning water up over a 34 foot high barrier if you don't believe me. (34 feet of water is approximately equivalent to atmospheric pressure).
  • Square is a nice tool, and a great demonstration that automatically crawling data doesn't give you facts, only a popularity index.

    Example, one of their examples is "biggest companies", which gives you the likes of Microsoft at the top. Sorry, but MS may be a big name in the tech industry, but it is dwarves by companies such as Nestle (food industry, twice the revenue of MS) or BP (oil industry, over 4 times the revenue of MS) and many others.

    You just don't read much about Nestle on the Internet, and BP only

  • No answer to that simple question. Just the usual search results.
    You would think Google would know the answer to that question.

  • I initially thought the article was saying google was going to answer questions its users had about its service like, why is Gmail down and when will it be up. Or why can't I turn off threading in Gmail? Or why does the gmail address book look like a refugee form 1998? Just a few questions I'd like answered directly as a Google Apps premium user.
  • The company says it will directly answer 'millions of different fact-seeking searches' with short answers at the top of its results.

    I don't know about the rest of you, but I thought google had this for at least at least a little while now. It seems like they started with word definitions and then more and more queries resulted in a direct answer just above the search results. Queries for city populations and other facts mostly pulled from wikipedia seem to be the most common.

    • I don't know about the rest of you, but I thought google had this for at least at least a little while now.

      They have. This is really just increasing the scope of the feature.

  • I don't understand their answer to "What is the secret to life the universe and everything?" [google.com]
  • They just get the answers from Wolfram Alpha [wolframalpha.com].

"Mach was the greatest intellectual fraud in the last ten years." "What about X?" "I said `intellectual'." ;login, 9/1990