outperform more popular Web engines
Even as they become
more savvy, the Internet's leading search engines still
sometimes bog down in befuddlement when a specific kernel
of knowledge is sought.
Hoping to fill
the gap, Answers.com (from GuruNet Corp.) and Ask.com
(from Ask Jeeves Inc.) have pledged to provide more adept
responses to vexing but straightforward questions about
history, science, geography, pop culture and sports.
Both search engines
aim to provide a correct answer explicitly at the top
of a search's first results page -- or with a highly placed
link to a Web page that contains the information.
Their mission raises
a question: Just how knowledgeable are these search engines?
To find out, I staged
a very unscientific test consisting of questions culled
from a recent edition of Trivial Pursuit.
My mock game pitted
the avowed prowess of Answers.com and Ask.com against
the Internet's most widely used search engines -- Google,
Yahoo and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN.
Answers.com and Ask.com appear to be a small step ahead
of Google and noticeably smarter than Yahoo and MSN when
dealing with such esoteric questions as "What glass
beads are created when a meteorite strikes the Earth's
and Ask.com guided me to the correct answer (tektites)
with the first link on the results page -- an aptitude
that both sites displayed with 10 of the 20 questions
posed in the theoretical game. When they didn't get the
answer with the very first link in response to some questions,
both search engines generally came through within the
next two links.
Although they performed
similarly in our game,-Answers.com and Ask.com rely on
on a combination of Google's search engine and human
editors who have stoked its database with answers to frequently
asked questions that they've obtained by poring through
Ask.com, part of
a Web family about to be acquired by e-commerce conglomerate
InterActiveCorp for $2 billion, has devised a fully automated
approach that fishes through the Internet's sea of information.
are superior to the other search engines at this task,
Answers.com and Ask.com rarely realized their ultimate
goal -- making things as clear-cut as possible by summarizing
the correct response at the very top of the results page
so it wouldn't be necessary to click on a link and peruse
another Web site.
Ask.com spit out
a concise "Web answer" in just two of the 20
questions, while the only time that Answers.com delivered
was when I sought the definition of "googol."
(It's the number one followed by 100 zeros.)
drew its name from that mathematical term, fared reasonably
well in the competition. The Internet's most popular search
engine came up with the correct answer on the first link
in eight of the 20 questions (including the one about
tektites). That's something Yahoo did just five times
and MSN only twice.
None of the sites
was omniscient. Answers.com, Ask.com and Google each
drew blanks on three questions (I considered it a miss
if a link to the correct answer didn't appear within the
first three pages of results). Yahoo and MSN each whiffed
on six questions.
There was only
one question that baffled all the search engines,
"Who was the first Cuban defector to play in Major
League Baseball?" Although they all contained references
to him in their indexes, none of the search engines could
figure out it was Rene Arocha, a pitcher who first signed
with the St. Louis Cardinals in the early 1990s.
Though it lagged
behind the other search engines in this competition,
MSN looked brilliant on one question that stumped all
the other search engines: What company was acquired in
the biggest leveraged buy-out deal of all time? The first
link on MSN's results page took me to a site that correctly
listed RJR Nabisco.
The test also revealed
the disadvantage of depending on search engines -- they
sometimes point to sites with conflicting answers.
most frequently when I asked how many viewers watched
the series finale of the TV show M*A*S*H. The search engines
pointed to Web sites that variously listed the audience
at anywhere from 105.9 million to nearly 125 million.
Trivial Pursuit lists the answer as 121.6 million.
To paraphrase M*A*S*H's
theme song, searching for online answers still isn't painless.
Author: Michael Liedtke
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