Google Q&A

    April 11, 2005

Google Search now has new functionality that will attempt to answer what it perceives to be a question that you’ve keyed into the search box. It’s called Google Q&A.

Just released, it’s certainly not perfect or as good as its partner site, and it’s certainly no Google Answers, but it still can be helpful considering it makes the attempt on every search anyway.

There’s not really very much you need to understand to use it. You simply key in your search terms and Google determines if it appears you are looking for a fact, and if it thinks it might have that fact to give you. If it does, it will give it to you at the top of the search results page. For example, try searching for: [number of moons jupiter]

Notice that the answer always comes with the web page that Google used as reference. All information is scraped form various pages on the web. As opposed to competitors MSN or Ask Jeeves, for example, Google does not write it’s own answers. As it does with just about everything, it searches the internet for answers rather than creating content. This means that the answers are not always going to be as accurate as an Ask Jeeves or MSN. Not only less accurate, they could be just plan inaccurate.

Many of the searches I tried didn’t produce any answers. But, there is a way to somewhat increase the odds of getting answers. If you use words in your search that help to form a simple question, such as “Who is,” “What is,” and “Where is,” it will help Google to understand it is a question. For example, keying in [julius caesar] does not bring up an answer, but keying in [who is julius caesar] tells you ” is remembered as one of history’s greatest generals and a key ruler of the Roman empire.”

In fact, you can find out more about Julius Caesar by asking other questions. [when was julius caesar born] tells you “Date of Birth: 101 BC.” If you want to find out when he died, you can ask it [when did julius caesar die] – “Date of Death: 44 BC.”

Jonathan Betz, lead tech of Google Q&A, said “Try it out, and keep checking back. This is only the beginning.” It’s good it’s only the beginning because it’s not that great yet. But, like I said at the start, at least it doesn’t take any extra effort on your end. If it has something for you, it will give it to you. I’m sure it will get better as time goes on, because since the beginning of the year Google has been sending lots of traffic to the fantastic Ever since I saw that I knew it would only be a matter of time before they attempted to develop their own similar service. This is the first step. But, until Google Q&A is really ready for prime time, I recommend using and, of course, Google Answers (for complete instructions on using Google Answers see the article You’ve got Questions, Google’s got Answers. Also, don’t forget that if you are simply looking for a definition of a word, you can use Google Definitions from the search box (see Dictionary Definitions at your Fingertips).

Mark Fleming is the founder of a new blog called Google Tutor & Advisor. Google Tutor & Advisor offers in-depth Tips, Techniques and Advice for Google Users.

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