Skip to main content

Factual Google

Google is building fact mining into the search engine. Coming across a little article over at The Best Article Every Day, I got wind that Google Spreadsheets can do lookup of certain statistical and financial information. You can have formulas that include things like the latest Microsoft stock quote or the boiling point of sodium. This seemed interesting, so I played with it a bit, but changing the formula quickly to play with it was awkward. "Can I just Google this stuff," I thought? Yes. Read on for my findings.

The documentation for the Spreadsheet function, GoogleLookup, talks about entities and attributes. "Pluto" is an entity and "mass" is an attribute. As it turns out, you can just search for "mass of Pluto" or "birth rate in Canada" and are presented with a new type of search result.

We can see that Google seems to be pulling facts from the websites they index. They are structuring the information into subjects and properties about them. The feature has some large holes of missing functionality. "boiling point of sodium" gives a fact, but the system fails to parse any of the hits for "boiling point of mercury". The information we can get seems a little hit and miss. The community needs to put effort to document all of the entities and attributes.

One interesting result is searching for "mass of Pluto" doesn't just give us a fact result, but what appears to be a Google calculator result. This means they are recognizing the mass in both value and units. We can even use "mass of Pluto" in any calculation we would give to Google calculator.

As the shift is made from taking finding relevant documents to just giving us the information directly, we might wonder what the future of the search engine is. I expect we'll see someone in the next year bring Google to court for yet another lawsuite about what they can or cannot scrape from their website. When you have a nice site with good information, and Google just gives the users the data, you probably worry about the affect on your traffic. If it does affect traffic, then will the sites Google is grabbing the information from even remain active? Where will they get facts from when their facts pulling eliminates their sources?

Comments

da newb said…
Pretty interesting. I think I'll just stick with typing things in the regular Google web search.

Popular posts from this blog

CARDIAC: The Cardboard Computer

I am just so excited about this.


CARDIAC. The Cardboard Computer. How cool is that? This piece of history is amazing and better than that: it is extremely accessible. This fantastic design was built in 1969 by David Hagelbarger at Bell Labs to explain what computers were to those who would otherwise have no exposure to them. Miraculously, the CARDIAC (CARDboard Interactive Aid to Computation) was able to actually function as a slow and rudimentary computer. 
One of the most fascinating aspects of this gem is that at the time of its publication the scope it was able to demonstrate was actually useful in explaining what a computer was. Could you imagine trying to explain computers today with anything close to the CARDIAC?

It had 100 memory locations and only ten instructions. The memory held signed 3-digit numbers (-999 through 999) and instructions could be encoded such that the first digit was the instruction and the second two digits were the address of memory to operate on. The only re…

Interrupting Coders Isn’t So Bad

Here’s a hot take: disrupting coders isn’t all that bad.

Some disruptions are certainly bad but they usually aren’t. The coder community has overblown the impact. A disruption can be a good thing. How harmful disruption might be a symptom of other problems.

There are different kinds of disruptions. They are caused by other coders on your team, managers and other non-coders, or meetings throughout the day.

The easiest example to debunk is a question from a fellow developer. Imagine someone walks over to your desk or they ping you on Slack, because they have “one quick question.” Do you get annoyed at the interruption when you were in the middle of something important? You help out your teammate quickly and get back to work, trying to pick up where you left off. That’s a kind of interruption we complain about frequently, but I’m not convinced this is all that bad.

You are being disrupted but your team, of which you are only one member of the whole unit, is working smoothly. You unstuck …

How To Care If BSD, MIT, or GPL Licenses Are Used

The two recent posts about some individuals' choice of GPL versus others' preference for BSD and MIT style licensing has caused a lot of debate and response. I've seen everything as an interesting combination of very important topics being taken far too seriously and far too personally. All involved need to take a few steps back.

For the uninitiated and as a clarifier for the initiated, we're dealing with (basically) three categories of licensing when someone releases software (and/or its code):
Closed Source. Easiest to explain, because you just get nothing.GPL. If you get the software, you get the source code, you get to change it, and anything you combine it with must be under the same terms.MIT and BSD. If you get the software, you might get the source code, you get to change it, and you have no obligations about anything else you combine it with.The situation gets stickier when we look at those combinations and the transitions between them.

Use GPL code with Closed S…