Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Sometimes one wants to use a search engine to find a very specific piece of information rather than to learn about a topic. If search engines were truly intelligent, you could just pose a question the same way you would ask a person. An alternative is to get the search engine to 'fill in the blank.' So instead of asking [who invented the parachute?], you can enter the query [the parachute was invented by *]. (The blank, or wildcard, search is marked by * - an asterisk.)
There is so much text on the web that this method often works well, but to make it more effective, we've improved the way results are found in response to queries containing such blanks. This includes allowing softer pattern matching, if necessary, and promoting results in which the blank filler is relatively more frequent in the context of the query.
One nice thing about this approach to answering questions is that the same mechanism can be used in all languages, so the improved blank filling will work on google.com in your favorite language. It can also be used for exploratory queries rather than questions as such: try something like [Glasgow is the * capital of Europe].