Answers.com announced this week that they’ve added natural language searching to their Web site. It’s in beta and can be used straight out of the query box at http://www.answers.com.
To use it, just ask a question in Answer.com’s usual query box (Answers.com will provide you with some suggested questions/queries as you type; for the most part I found these not helpful.) I asked my usual question, “How tall is a giraffe?
Answer.com came back with Web search results (from Google) immediately, but went through a graphic of a countdown (10 9 8 etc.) before providing extracted answers from the Web. By the time that came up, I had already scanned the snippets of the Web results and gotten some answers. Answers.com provided a few more, but the delay’s a bit annoying.
I asked Answers.com Why is the sky blue? which took me to a Wikipedia-based answer. So I asked Why is the sky black? This worked better with the Web answers; the search results from Google were mostly in the theme of “Why is the sky blue.” The Web answers, once they were loaded, were much more specific (“At night, the sky is black because the sun is not facing in your area.”)
Despite the slowness, the natural language feature does seem to work, but be careful what you ask. One of the example questions in Answers.com’s press release was “How does the Atkins diet work?”, so I asked Does the Atkins diet work?. I got a dog’s breakfast of Web answers results which didn’t even seem good for getting an overview of opinions; better stick to the factual, reference-type questions.