The great merger of Web engine and answer engine continues. Google announced that it is now delivering reference answers atop search results pages to certain—well, referency—keyword queries. the service is called Google Q&A. In my experiments, using question-type keywords like what is, who is, and where is helps generate the answers. For example, the simple keyword bulgaria doesn’t do it, but where is bulgaria yields the reference result show to the right.
Mysteriously, Answers.com, Google’s great answer-engine partner, is missing from this content. It’s a shame, too, because in my testing Answers.com does a bitter job (sometimes much better) than Google in delivering reference facts. Google is drawing from a range of reference sources, not least of which is Wikipedia. In fact, the overbearing Wiki presence makes me wonder if Google threw together a quick response to Yahoo!’s announcement that it would soon be adding Wiki content to its result pages. (Boy, delay is death in this business.)
SEW lists some sample searches and compares Google Q&A results with MSN Search and Ask Jeeves. Here are three searches comparing Google with Answers.com:
KEYWORD: longest river and what is longest river. In Google, the first query delivered no Q&A content. The second delivered the name of the longest river in Singapore. Answers.com delivered an encyclopedic page in response to the first qwuery, including a gigantic table of rivers sorted by length and intensely cross-referenced to country information.
KEYWORD: who shot abraham lincoln. Google delivered the answer. Answers.com displayed a link to an entry for John Wilkes Booth, without explicitly stating the answer.
KEYWORD: bulgaria and where is bulgaria. Google struck out on the first query, and delivered a terse, fairly uninformative answer to the second. Answers.com displayed a full text description and map in response to both queries.
The upshot? Google Q&A is weak, but hopeful. For now, I’ll continue taking the extra step to Answers.com for my quick reference look-ups. And if Google were serious about this, it would get cozier with its partner and use it more.