Day Without Google, which challenged users to drop the big 5 search engines (Google, Yahoo!, MSN/Live, Ask, and AOL) for an entire day, and instead use an alternative search engine. Taking a cue from Richard MacManus, who said he would be checking out Hakia, I decided to go with a natural language/meaning-based search engine, too: Lexxe (pronounced "Leksi").Yesterday was AltSearchEngine's
Suffice it to say, while I got by, I missed Google and Yahoo!. Lexxe says it is powered by natural language processing and urges searchers to ask questions in plain English. It then attempts to give you an answer based on what it determines are the top results. Unfortunately, more often than not, the answer is gave just wasn't right, and the results it gave weren't much stronger than Google's.
As an example, last night I caught part of a fascinating documentary about Israel's 1967 war with Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Later, I couldn't remember the name of Israel's prime minister at the time, so I fired up Lexxe and asked: Who was Israel's prime minister during the 1967 war? Lexxe suggested that it was Yitzhak Rabin -- I knew that wasn't right. The second result, however, mentioned Levi Eshkol -- which is, it turns out, the correct answer. (Oddly enough, when I tried 'Who was the prime minister of Israel during the 1967 war?' as my query, I got a message saying I should stick to queries of under 10 words, and a suggested answer of "Feisty," but the first results highlighted the sentence: "Levi Eshkol, the Prime Minister of Israel during the 1967 war ..." which exactly answered my question.)
So the results, when I studied them a bit, weren't terrible, but were they really enough to make me switch from Google? When I tried my first query in Google this morning, the first result I got was Wikipedia's Six-Day War entry, which would lead me to Eshkol. And the fourth result highlighted text on the search results page mentioning Eshkol as prime minister. In general, though, I wouldn't ask Google a direct question, I'd likely start with something like: israel's prime minister 1967 war, which interestingly provides basically the same results as the question.
After being reminded by my Google query that the 1967 was also known as the Six-Day War, I tried to give Lexxe one last test, repeating my first query, but replacing "1967 war" with "Six-Day War." The answer was unintelligible, but the very first result it gave was titled "Levi Eshkol" and displayed a snippet talking about him being PM during the war. Google's results for the same query were not so good, with the first mention of Eshkol in slot 5, and a snippet that wasn't very clear as to who he was. Finally, a win for Lexxe!
So what does that mean? To me, it shows that meaning-based and natural language search isn't really ready for prime time. The answers Lexxe suggested were almost never right, and though the results could eventually lead to the answer, they rarely did so any quicker than Google -- and often required tinkering with my query, the same as other search engines, so didn't save me much time. (I also tried the above queries at Hakia, but with an even less positive result: it suggested Golda Meir and David Ben-Gurion, the prime ministers before and after Eshkol, for my original question).
Powerset. On Monday, TechCrunch posted the first public screenshot of a Powerset results page. The screenshot showed the query "politicians who died in office" (without quotes) and Michael Arrington was impressed:It would seem that Google understands natural language queries just as well as these other search engines, right now. In some cases, Google actually understands natural language better (for example, I can ask "What is 3 + 5?" and get 8, Lexxe doesn't understand what I mean). One of the most hyped natural language search engines is the yet-to-be released
But for "politicians who died in office" the results on Google wonÄôt be as good. Context is required: Google has only six results for the query in quotes, and without quotes it loses its meaning and the results arenÄôt useful (notice the Powerset blog is the fourth result). The Powerset results are relevant and useful.
But as many TechCrunch commenters pointed out, the Powerset results aren't really that helpful, just providing a seemingly random list of sites about various politicians who died in office. With or without quotes, however, Google points users to a site called The Political Graveyard that lists every US politician that died in office with the first result. So it would seem that Google's results are still better.
So my day without Google demonstrated to me just how far alternative search engines (at least those of the natural language set -- which is one of the most hyped variety as potential "Google-killers") have to go to catch up with Google and the other big 5 search engines. How was your day without Google? Share your experiences in the comments below.