I sat down with Gary Price for a little while during Web Search University and got a tour of his new cell phone (Gary is the king of cutting-edge cell phones) as well as a demonstration of some of Ask’s “Smart Answers” features, brought to you via RSS.
If you’ve used the search engine at Ask.com at all, you’ve probably noticed that some of your searches bring results at the top of the page, above the advertisements and the regular Web search results. Do a search for George Washington, for example, and you’ll get a picture, a brief description, and a pointer to more information.
There are also results based on RSS feeds. If you do a search for “search engine watch”, you’ll get as the first results RSS feed results from the last three Search Engine Watch stories. What I didn’t realize is that Ask.com is using the RSS feeds to expand the kind of information you can get. For example, if you do a search for Hurricane Warnings, you’ll get both general information and pointers to hurricane information, but also a feed from the national hurricane center. Naming a specific hurricane, however (“Hurricane Helene”) brings you slightly different results; pointers to information about that hurricane as well as the latest information on Helene. (And defunct hurricanes, like Fran, merely point you to an encyclopedia article.)
The interesting thing about this setup is how customizable it was. Gary noted that they could customize the Smart Answers based on current events, evolving names and keywords, and so on. That seems to have a limited effect, however; searching for spinach recall didn’t bring me information from either current news results or CPSC about the spinach recall. However, searching for cpsc recalls did give me the CPSC’s current feed.
(By the way, it’s AMAZING how much word order effects the results in Ask. Do a search for spinach recall and recall spinach. Good grief.)
This is very cool, but I’d like to challenge Ask to go a little further and start using keyword-based feeds in addition to the static feeds it seems to be exclusively using. Take for example the keyword autism. If you run a search for that you’ll get a Wikipedia result as well as some way to narrow and expand that search. Based on the Expand Your Search options, Ask seems pretty aware that autism is a medically-related query.
That being the case, why not set up something that automatically scans HubMed or PubMed and gets the results as an RSS feed that’s put at the top of the search results? So if I ran an Ask.com query for autism I would get the Wikipedia pointer, a list of the latest HubMed articles containing the word autism, and then Web results. Or maybe I get HubMed information and the latest news results. It’d be adding a little bit of metasearch to the Ask.com engine, except the external results you’d be getting would be much fresher, and if you stuck to certain kinds of sources (news search, PubMed, etc.) much more authoritative.
This posting originated at ResearchBuzz.