Sunday, June 7, 2009

Bakers dozen:

Continuing my completely unscientific survey, I wanted to stop by before looking at the newer engines, because (formerly Ask Jeeves in the US, still so known in the UK) is meant to answer questions phrased in plain English instead of requiring Google-ese. In theory, it should do better on a list of questions like the baker's dozen. Will it? Since the results here are (spoiler alert!) quite similar to Google's results, you might want to refer back to those.
  • How much energy does the US consume?
This turned up the same broken link Google came up with, the US Energy Information Administration's home page -- which doesn't seem to answer the question directly -- blog entries on several energy topics, and a bunch of ads. However, one or two of the blog entries gave US consumption in kilowatt-hours per day, and the figure matched up with the annual figure that Google turned up. The question doesn't specify units, so this ought to count as a partial success, the same as with Google. I'd still rate Google ahead here, since it found not just the EIA, but the right page on the EIA site, and did so as the second hit.
  • How many cell phones are there in Africa?
Ask turned up the same top two hits as Google, which satisfactorily answer the question.
  • When is the next Cal-Stanford game?
Ask turns up roughly the same hits as Google, which don't really answer the question.
  • When is the next Cal game?
Again roughly the same not-too-useful results ...
  • Who starred in 2001?
... and again ...
  • Who starred in 2001: a Space Odyssey?
... and again, this time with the same winning top hit ...
  • Who has covered "Ruby Tuesday"?
Same results, different formatting.
  • What kinds of trees give red fruit?
How many ways can I say it? But we can at least add pomegranate to the list.
  • Who invented the hammock? and Wikipedia also seem to make a fine flavor combination
  • Who played with Miles Davis on Kind of Blue?
I continue to sense a certain ... sameness in the Ask and Google results.
  • How far is it from Bangor to Leeds?
Once again Field Notes is high on the list, but I don't see a UK distance calculator or any snippet suggesting a direct answer, only similar queries (e.g., Bangor to Conwy). In case Google or Ask landed you here and you wanted to know, it's about 140 miles (or around 230 km).
  • How far is it from Bangor to New York?
Aha! A clear win for Ask: "The distance between Bangor, ME and New York, NY is 387.0 miles(623.0 km)," right at the top of the page.
  • How far is it from Paris to Dallas?
And again the results are nearly identical to Google's. Dallas to Paris, France is given in the same top hit as Google's (5000 miles), no mention of Paris, TX.

So, what have we learned? Ask and Google produce largely identical results. I would say that in two cases Ask's answers were not quite as useful as Google's. In one, they were clearly better. In only one case did Ask appear to process a question as a question, rather than a collection of keywords. All in all, either seems useful. I don't see any great reason to switch, but I would expect a frequent Ask user would say likewise.

Next: On to the new generation.

1 comment:

earl said...

Does ASK ask Google?

If not, why not?