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 Range of Content on Planet Python

I've gotten a number of requests lately to contribute only Python related material to the Planet Python feeds and to be honest these requests have both surprised and insulted me, but they've continued. I am pretty sure they've come from a very small number of people, but they have become consistent. This is probably because of my current habit of writing about NaNoWriMo every day and those who aren't interested not looking forward to having the rest of the month reading about my novel. Planet Python will be getting a feed of only relevant posts in the future, but I'm going to be honest: I am kind of upset about it. I don't care if anyone thinks it is unreasonable of me to be upset about it, because the truth is Planet Python means something to me. It was probably the first thing I did that I considered "being part of the community" when I submitted my meager RSS feed to be added some seven years ago. My blog and my name on the list of authors at Plan

Pythonic Defined

Introduction Losing is Good Strings Dictionaries Conclusion Introduction Veterans and novices alike of Python will hear the term "pythonic" thrown around, and even a number of the veterans don't know what it means. There are times I do not know what it means, but that doesn't mean I can define a pretty good idea of what "pythonic" really means. Now, it has been defined at times as being whatever the BDFL decides, but we'll pull that out of the picture. I want to talk about what the word means for us today, and how it applied to what we do in the real world. Languages have their strengths and their idioms (ways of doing things), and when you exploit those you embrace the heart of that language. You can often tell when a programmer writing in one language is actually more comfortable with another, because the code they right is telltale of the other language. Java developers are notorious for writing Java in every language they get their hands on. Ho