Among other things, my research looks at how people find information online. When I conducted in-person observations of people’s information-seeking behavior on the Web, it was interesting to see how well Ask Jeeves had done in marketing itself as the search engine that answers people’s questions. Even respondents in my study who otherwise relied on Google for almost all of their queries would go to Ask Jeeves to find the answer to the question about what steps they would have to take if they lost their wallet. People would type in their query in the form of a question even though in most cases – and especially if not specified with quotes, which is something few users do – including “what” or “where” in a query does little to improve the results of a search. It was an interesting example of how a search service could position itself in the search engine market by a particular marketing approach. The results to users’ queries on that particular search engine were no better than the results offered by other services, but due to the type of question people turned to that service regardless. Now I have come across something that seems quite unique to Ask Jeeves among the most popular search engines in terms of actual services rendered, for the moment at least.
Reading the Search Engine Watch blog I found out that using Ask Jeeves can cut down on the number of clicks required to find the answers to simple factual questions. Ask Jeeves will now give you a little box with the answers to some of your questions without having to click through to one of the results for the information. For example, wondering about this year’s date for Passover, I typed in when is Passover in 2005 and was given the exact info right there by Jeeves. (Yes, of course it’s enough to type in passover 2005 to get the same result, I was just playing along.) The service seems to cater to more popular forms of information. It will give you information about some celebrity birthdays (e.g. walter matthau birthday) and the names of Academy Award winners (up until 2002 for now, e.g. academy award best actress 2002), but it won’t display the names of Nobel Prize winners directly (e.g. see results for chemistry nobel prize 2002). It will be interesting to see to what other topical domains they expand the service (some geographical information is also available this way already). For now, other search services such as Google and Yahoo require additional clicks to find answers to the above questions. Perhaps in time they will come out with their versions of instant responses.
fn1. Yes, I realize that Google has been supplying answers to some questions directly for a while. That’s what Kieran relied on in this post.