Google Joins the Direct Answers Club

Story Text:

A couple of hours ago, my friend Rob emailed me this query, wondering what he was seeing at the top of the Google results. We couldn't work it out, we thought it was a malformatted news story at first, as we couldn't replicate the issue on other searches. Now i see inside Google have worked it out, and it's working on a greater number of queries...

Google now joins MSN and ASK in the direct answers club. Try a search for population of Denmark or pretty much anything. The format changes from search to search, somethimes in the format of the population query, sometimes as a definition, but it's pretty neat.

Danny has some more examples and commentary here.

They appear to have a little work yet to do, as the airport parking query demonstrates...


Pretty neat...

... for users, sure. But not always pretty neat for publishers and web site owners, is it?

"Population of Denmark" is a pretty harmless query, but what about when SEs stop sending people to my web site, and instead just take the information off my web site and present it in this "answers" format? If I have some valuable information and want people to hit my web site to get it, I don't think I'd call that "pretty neat."

I'm all for info. sharing and people learning as much as they can, but I can see some issues that certain publishers will have if/when SEs just extract data and present it without sending users to the source web page.

BTW, University of Washington has a project called "KnowItAll" that seems to be heading in this direction.

I'm a user and I think it's cool.

Would that stuff be hand-edited/enabled? I'd guess so...

Makes me think of not looking for sites that correspond with your search terms, but just the one - definitive (?) - answer. I just hope they're always right and when in doubt: leave it out...

Shame they refer to the CIA factbook

A source of information which is at the very least, biased towards the US Government and how they see countries.

I'm beginning to see why France have the hump.

Good fishing Nick

Aha, so that's what it is! You'd think theyd put some little attribute next to it though. In its current format its certainly head scratch inducing, how would a web novice fair I wonder?

They've dropped that weird airport parking "answer" too.

I do wonder why they'd release this thing when its clearly in need of a tweak or 2.

I think its a good thing generally, provided it only shows a teaser of an answer, and as long as the link to the source is provided, then Im kind of ok with it too.


>information and want people to hit my web site to get it, I don't think I'd call that "pretty neat.

Backdoor portalization or semi-walled garden. Watch for more of it on ALL SEs.

let me count the reasons

Counting the reasons to cloak: let's see, 1,2,3,4,5,.......

kind of on a robwatts basis

>I think its a good thing generally, provided it only shows a teaser of an answer, and as long as the link to the source is provided, then Im kind of ok with it too.

I think a few areas may attract a higher squeal factor from webmasters than others but as a user I *think* I would prefer to just see the answer to "what is the capital of..." rather than have to click a link to see it.

Having said that the end game may be that I miss out on that great site that I would have had to click on to get the answer, which led me to another site and so on.

Maybe in the end the SGF "search glow factor" [you know the one, they enter a search term, you work your ass off getting it high in the serp's, work even harder making it a great site and then they click and come to your site and say...thank you Google...] starts to work against them. I know one thing for sure, if any SE crosses the line between stating their "opinion" of the right answer to stating *the* right answer they would need to beef up their legal team beforehand.


how much wood could a wood chuck chuck...

You know, when i wrote it i was in pure user mode, and judging from my own writing i'd say it's at least on the surface a great thing for users.

But NFFC has the right of it i think, it's not quite black and white, but there's a line there somewhere....

the line

is fact vs opinion. There is a capital of France, they can tell me that from an acknowledged geographic source and I'll be happy.

However Wood Chucks could chuck variable amounts depending on their frame of mind therefore no definitive answer, the site referenced is basically an 'im feeling lucky' choice (may not be best but sounds like it has the answer) and that's not good.

When kids start handing in homework with the wrong answer because the source got it wrong there'll be trouble. I think if it's limited to the accepted experts (encarta, national geographic etc etc) and doesn't get too clever then that's great, but they all need to be careful about what's excepted as an 'expert' source.

oh - and Dannys mountain view example now has a result. If only all feedback were so well received :)

is it NBA, or NBA?

Danny's NBA example points out the problem of choosing one answer over another as there is no right answer, on applicable answers. yields National Basketball Association as the answer, whereas, yields National Basketball Association, National Blood Authority and National Bibliographic Agency as only three of many possible choices.

In both cases the copyright line has been blurred. Regardless, Search Engines should point the way, not provide the answer.

re: the line

is fact vs opinion

Not necessarily. Let's pretend I'm a New York Yankees fan. Let's say that over the past 10 years I've developed what has become the most authoritative web site on the history of Yankee baseball -- all the great players, their bios, stats, photos; all the great coaches, all the championship teams they've had. This is the site Yankee fans worldwide go to for Yankee history.

Let's say I get 300,000 unique users a month. And let's say I bring in a couple grand a month in AdSense revenue, or from affiliate-type sources.

And then let's say when all these Yankee fans are doing searches where my site would show up in the first couple spots, the SEs instead pull the information right out of my web site and present it as the answer to the query. Nobody needs to visit my site anymore. Traffic to my site goes down, revenue goes down, etc.

It's not fact vs. opinion, because this pretend site is showing facts. The issue is that the SEs, to borrow Woz's term, have decided it's not enough to "point the way" anymore. They want to be the destination, but they're taking content off my site to do it. If I'm that Yankee site owner, I'm pretty hacked.


>Search Engines should point the way, not provide the answer.

Thats what I meant to say :)

Its hard for $5o billion company to know its place, they must think they are the masters of the universe right now. I think they still have enough good old skool people there to keep it going, people really committed to search, that may change though.

ok mayby not what I meant

I didn't define that well but actually I still can't in a couple of words - what I mean is that services like google weather and define: are great, people rarely complain about them and I don't see a huge difference between that and a response to 'population of france' - in theory they're all taking bread from the mouths of sites which have the info and may also provide ads but very straightforward things seem to me to be unlikely to generate high ad revenue (you want the answer, you get it, you don't tend to browse the site it came from or click an ad).

I agree that baseball player stats fall into something the website should get the traffic for.

So what I defined as opinion does include some facts.

Ah I give up. How about they always link to the site like they do with definitions?


>How about they always link to the site like they do with definitions?

If you are cool with that I'm cool with copying all your sites and giving you a nofollow link at the bottom, do we have a deal?

the search engine should do the search

- i've stated this before, but it's the job of the search engine to do the search, it's not the job of the user.

The search engine that will ultimately be seen as the best by the user is the one that provides the answer. Not the one that bothers the user with having to do more search.

Current search is like walking into a store and saying "i want a big blue widget", only to get the response "here is our widget department, we've got them in all colors and sizes, just look around until you find a big blue one".


I don't really see that's the same deal NFFC. To be honest if someone came to me and said "in my search engine which receives millions of queries each day I will use your site as the featured site every time someone types in 'la plagne snow conditions' because you have great reports, and then I'll provide a link to your site from that answer" then yes I'd seriously consider it.

It gets that site to the top of the listings at no cost, if they only want the snow conditions then they weren't going to buy insurance from me anyway and if they wonder if I also have a webcam then they can click through.

In fact if they advertised the opportunity I suspect a lot of people here would actually apply for their sites to be used for appropriate queries.

Of course it isn't really as white as my example but it isn't ecessarily as black as yours. Google already copy all my sites and make money off of them, they aren't going to give me any less in return by boosting one of them with a link. Using my data is a vote of confidence for my site. I can see it may piss some people off but unless you're top of the page anyway are you going to get less click throughs?

It's back to the slippery slope argument, there is no clear line here, if answering queries at the top of the serps is unacceptable why were we not kicking up a fuss when the SE's added any number of 'useful' features at the top of the SERPS? There should have been an autolink style outrage some time ago.


>Of course it isn't really as white as my example but it isn't ecessarily as black as yours.

I agree but I think we have a disconnect on what the www is really, under the surface, about.

The long term players are publishers, their aim is to get people to read their stuff in the context they want it read in. Myself I'm a cheap ecom guy, sure I want as many visitors as I can but in the real world all I want is sales, thats all that matters. I keep telling myself that but in my heart I don't believe it to be really true, visitors are one thing..sales are people who really really liked your work. In the end all I'm after is other peoples approval of my site, sales is the best way to measure that, but I *really* need them to visit the site first.

I don't think the content publishers are that different, they just use a different measuring tool, maybe newsletter sign ups etc etc

I think that web site owners have concerns very closely aligned with that of the struugling writer looking to get his book published, its a very similar gig.


Some discussion along similar lines over at WmW -

Note the Prime Minister example. ;-)

I'm with NFFC, however you slice it, copyright is being infringed.

Google Borg

Google ... how can we irritate the web publishing community today!

if you ain't big, be quick

Google's mission is "organize the world's information" not "organize the world's publications".

They scanned print catalogs without permission, and made them searchable. They are opening books and making them searchable. Why would they even blink at parsing up websites and delivering them as well? Website publishers have shallower pockets than just about any of the "publishers" in the cross hairs of the Googleplex.

I read that ODP looked at submitted directories and instead of accepting them, raided their content for the DMOZ (basically rendering the original directory website superfluous).

We need to find a balance for copyright instead of drafting bad laws to assign ownership to data collections, or proclaiming that "all information wants to be free". Something like "copy middle". Until then, it appears to be a slugfest.

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