Google Blogoscoped


Some Non-Alphanumeric Searches Begin to Roll-Out on

gary price [PersonRank 10]

Wednesday, August 23, 2006
16 years ago4,262 views has started to roll out Smart Answer results for some non-alphanumeric searches.

The first to go are emoticons/smileys and a RSS Smart Answer for a well-known site.

First, now a search for :-), :-(, or ;) returns results and direct links to get more info.

You'll also notice that the term "emoticon" is linked to a Smart Answer with history and more about these symbols. In the examples I've shared the terms smiling and sad are hyperlinked to our image database. Where you'll also spot our Zoom (narrow/expand) feature in place. began using its own image dbase in Jan. of this year.
The third example (winking) takes you to a definition of the term directly on the web results page.

In terms of the well-known site symbol, look at this search /.

In this case you'll see an RSS Smart Answer for the site with the three latest postings. RSS Smart Answers were officially launched about two weeks ago.

Here's an RSS Smart Answer for this blog.

MUCH MORE to come in the non-alphanumeric search arena. Stay tuned.

Roger Browne [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

I don't really need "Smart Answers" for non-alphanumerics; what I really want is "Search Results".

gary price [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Others have told us that they would be helpful, sorry they are of little value to you Roger. As I said, this alphanumeric thing is just in the early stages so maybe as we roll out more your feelings will change.

Actually, long before my job at, during search training sessions, I've been asked or heard asked of others, if this type of searching was available.

We do our best to appeal to a wide variety of users with a wide variety of tools and resources along with our web database. Another example? We not only offer driving directions but also walking directions with our maps and directions product.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Cool feature. I think :/ is missing. It's a variant of :-/.

John Marshall [PersonRank 3]

16 years ago #

I think this is really cool. Though I already know what :) stands for, the RSS Smart Answers can be helpful.
Are these being added to Ask manually?(The non-alphanumeric stuff)

/pd [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

I think that emoticons' meanings/translation would be a big advantage -in this space. After all -the thumb pushers have their own creative way of communication. If that others can yeild meaning , then I see no reason why , it wont be a good feature

gary price [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Two things.

1) As I said at SES, those of us who watch search stuff very closely (Internet too) forget that many people don't know what we take for granted and assume is common knowledge. I can't tell you how many training sessions I've given (before my new job and at the present time where I talk about all engines, not only and people have no idea of how to change the number of results or that Google Images exists or you can limit using site:. These are people who use Google and other engines, all day, every day and have never clicked on anything but the search button.

2) Smart Answers. It depends. Combo really. Some are built and edited with human involvement, others are automated. In some cases, an automated result might come direct from Wikipedia.

Automated Real Time

This one has been online for over three years

Automated Wikipedia

Human Editing and Automated


RSS SA's will also offer non-blog or news content. Let's say a new book list from a library or an RSS feed of events at a university. Simple example:

Blog RSS SA's come from lists (via Bloglines) and from editors.

Hope this helps.

Ionut Alex. Chitu [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

But what if Wikipedia provides false information. I could edit a page and your crawler would read wrong information. Wouldn't be nice to check the information from other sources?

/pd [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Yes, Wiki's tend to provide "false positives" – how can this be deemed "Smart Answers" ??

I call that method a "smart fetch" – not a smart result!!

gary price [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

I agree 100% and we have more sources coming.

This is not only an issue at Ask (in terms of Smart Answers) but for other sites that take Wikipedia data, crawl it completely, and then brand it as their own. One of the positives of Wikipedia is that changes can be made quickly but at the same time it can be a negative.

I was told at Wikimania that their is talk for a "stable" version of Wikipedia for crawling might be coming in the future. Well have to wait and see.

In our case, most of the Wikipedia result comes from the LIVE site (in other words) you have to click to the actual result on the Wikipedia service. That said, I here you loud and clear. Believe me.

Of course, other results do what you ask for.
Here you'll find results from, and Wikipedia.

Same type of thing here:

As I've said before lots of other encyclopedias exist. In some cases, you can access them remotely from your library FOR FREE.

Also, most of Encarta is free by going first to MSN Search and clicking on any encarta answer. you're then given two hours to use the full text (some multimedia too). Then, when your time runs out either (techies: reset the cookie) or simply click on another result and the clock resets.

Ionut Alex. Chitu [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Don't you think that by emphasizing too much Onebox results you undermine the organic search results? Or do you dream of diminishing their importance?

gary price [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #


Only a portion of Smart Answers come from Wikipedia.

Here's another example:
As you can see we offer a variety of sources.

or when we pull out a specific fact.

Also remember that along with the Smart Answers we also provide organic links (algorithm) and tools to narrow and focus (algorithm). In some case, we also pull out related names.

Ionut Alex. Chitu [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

You mentioned the Romania query. Do you like this cluttered page? I can barely see a result without scrolling on my 1280x800 resolution.

Compare this to GOOG:

gary price [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

From my personal perspective as a librarian Ionut Alex. Chitu I would say no. One of the five laws of library science is "save the time of the reader."

With Smart Answers we give users another tool. Period. If they want it, great. If not, they can go on to the organic results. No problems or worries.

Perhaps we have saved the reader (in today's world, the web searcher) some time and some effort. We might have delivered them quickly to a tool or database they did not know about or might not find.

For many searchers it's about time. One librarian called it years ago (pre-web) the "principle of least effort" when doing research. Today, I think this is even more accurate.
Lots of people don't know that an image dbase exists. This SA began in 2003 and now others offer it.

ISBN (we also will recognize a number) but assuming the person doesn't know that, we take the user to wonderful book price comparison engine

Area Codes, related links

Garret commented on SA's the other day.

gary price [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Ionut Alex. Chitu I guess their is no arguing with you. Others have found are results pages clean and user friendly. Google's result doesn't offer basic links to info about the country which someone might be looking for when typing a one-word query like Romania. A scroll will easily get them to the basic organic results.

The bottom line is that we have choices. I think that's what's most important.

/pd [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

==="With Smart Answers we give users another tool. Period. If they want it, great"

No no – it is great- don't get me wrong! – it maybe the next step-- from organic to smart. What I tried to debate is the quality aspects of certain methods. I agree there's much to be done in this space.

The rational behind this discourse, I believe, is that is that of a feedback loop. Users seek clarifications/ offer suggestions so that may IMHO keep moving forward. After all, everyone wants better results and experiences!! :)_

Garett Rogers [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Ionut, wouldn't you say people go to search engines to find information? The great thing about Ask is that for queries that are obvious, Ask gives the searcher quality information without wading through search results.

The smart answre on Ask is a starting point for users – sometimes people don't exactly know what they are looking for, so ask points them in the right direction. Without smart answers or suggestions, users would potentially continue down a wrong path and it's guaranteed they are on their own to figure out the right one.

Of course Wikipedia is susceptable to inaccurate information – but overall it is an excellent source of information. And like Gary said, there are more sources coming.

For things that aren't obvious enough for a smart answer, the manual task of going through search results is still used.

Andrew Hitchcock [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Gary, I don't really have any comments on the Smart Answers, but I'd like to say it is nice having you here discussing these features with us. I also like how you disclose the source of a few example queries (whether they are human or automatic).

John Marshall [PersonRank 3]

16 years ago #

That's pretty cool. I personally like the info you give when searching for Romania. If I were searching for it, the onebox information at the top is what I would generally want to know. I can understand Ionut's view, that ads, combined with the onebox, make it hard to see lots of the results. I think it might be better if you put the top 3 adds below the extra info on the right side. Or maybe just one ad on the top, and 2 or 3 on the right. Of course I understand the need to make money...
I might end up checking Ask a little more, of course Google is still my favorite search engine, I mean this blog is 80% Google :).

I also feel the same Andrew Hitchcock

gary price [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

You are welcome Andrew. I've worried about this.

As many of you know, (most importantly Philipp) I can talk about search on a lot of levels and about many companies. Specialty databases are of great interest and one of the things we write about on ResourceShelf quite a bit.*

Andrew, I want to be clear. is an algorithmic search engine. That's how results are determined. It's powered by Teoma technology and its algorithm called Expert Rank. The idea of having to ask a question is long gone (as in years). That said, if you still like asking questions, feel free. It works.

At the conclusion of this post:
you'll find several articles about Teoma including an interview with its founder, Apostolos Gerasoulis.

You wrote:
<<<queries (whether they are human or automatic)>>>

was a discussion of how a Smart Answer is built. Yes, even in the automated ones we do use engineers and developers to bring the info into Ask.

In terms of how, when, why a Smart Answer OR an organic result appears, why specific Zoom options are shown, that's algorithmic.

OK, how about some other stuff. On ResourceShelf we are presently building two compilations of specialty databases. Usually we update them once a week.

1) A collection of specialty dbases from some of the great art museums of the world. Some offer tons of cool features.

2) A collection (very early) of databases that offer real time or near real time data.

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