Long before MSN, Yahoo, or Google began including answers (not just links) for specific types of ready reference questions in web results sets, Ask Jeeves was already providing direct answers or what they call Smart Answers.
Today, Jeeves is releasing even more Smart Answers. As I've said before, AJ's Smart Answers along with the other large search companies now provide, continue to turn "web" search into "answer" search for certain types queries.
Ask Jeeves launched Smart Answers in April 2003 with Zip Codes, movie times, and driving directions. Another early Smart Answer (still available and something we now see elsewhere) serves images from their image database directly onto web results pages. Since then, they've launched numerous additions to the service including a big helping 14 months ago.
At that time Jim Lanzone, Senior Vice President, Search Properties, at AJ told SearchDay,
"Smart Search is about providing the right information in the right place at the right time," said Jim Lanzone, vice-president of product management for Ask Jeeves. "We can match up with specialized databases on the fly. We're built to scale Smart Search with others people's data."
One of the things I like about Smart Answers is that in many cases you'll not only get the basic facts listed at the top of a web results page but you'll also find direct links to additional sources of info. These types of links really have the potential to save the searcher time, effort, and aggravation.
So, what's new from AJ today? Here's a list of the new Smart Answers. Each is linked to an example.
- World Nations: Quick Facts Not only facts from the CIA World Factbook listed on the results page but also direct links to other sources. We like!
- US States: Quick Facts Note: Jeeves also offers something similar for major cities in the US.
- Popular TV Shows information Fun! In many cases you'll also find direct links to episode guides.
- Famous People: Music profiles
- Video Games: All major titles plus platform
- NASCAR: Races & Drivers
- ISBN Search Book info and link to comparison price engine.
- Periodic Table of Elements
- US Area Code lookup
- Planets: Quick Facts
Let's hope Mr. Diller is onboard with the Smart Answers service and they keep rolling out. Although it has been tried in the past, perhaps the time has come to build a powerful, open web "fast fact" database. Perhaps this would also be a way for AJ or whatever they'll be called in the future to distinguish themselves from other services. Heck, you could even create verticals for various types of questions (sports, history, current events). These types of services would also work well on the mobile web. Advertising? How about companies sponsoring different "fact" verticals? For example, Nike might sponsor a database full of sports facts. Since geo-location is also possible the same database could be sponsored by various local and/or regional sporting good stores, teams, etc.
Finally, Jeeves should also be promoting Smart Answers to specific user groups. One that comes to mind is educators. The promotion would allow this large group of influential users to know about a service that could potentially save them and their students effort. It could also show them that the Ask Jeeves of 2005 is not the same service that was around in 1998 or 1999. It's been my experience that many teachers who DO know the Ask Jeeves brand still believe that the service hasn't undergone any changes and is still serving up the less than useful results it once provided pre-2001.
It would also be great if AJ would partner with the library community and subject experts to not only identify types of questions worthy of a Smart Answer but also to help choose what sources are most useful and authoritative.
More Smart Answers Info
- A long list of Smart Answers from 7/2003
- Ask Jeeves Serves Up New Features
- Ask Jeeves Introduces Famous People Search
Includes Academy Award winners and holiday dates.
Postscript: Web search history anyone? This February 2002 SearchDay article by Chris, reports on the first major web engine to offer some form of direct answers or shortcuts on a web results page.