Ask.com on Flagging Famous People

Does a search engine work better if it can figure out whether or not a search query is a name?

The folks at Ask.com appear to think so, and even want to know if the name is that of someone famous. I’m not sure how they measure fame, but they have a method for flagging names of the famous, as well as names that look like names, and names that really aren’t names (Brandy Alexander, anyone?)

picture of rap star 50 cent from Ask.com search result page

The process is described in a patent application from Ask, and details how they might go about figuring out whether “Usher” or “50 Cent” or “Attila the Hun” refer to people, or to something else completely.

Systems and methods for predicting if a query is a name
Invented by Eric J. Glover, Apostolos Gerasoulis and Vadim Bich
US Patent Application 20070239735
Published October 11, 2007
Filed: April 5, 2006

Abstract

A system and method for predicting if a query is a name is provided. The method begins by providing an input query. A name database, having a list of names, famous names and queries that are known to not be a name is searched to determine if the input query is a name, a famous name or not a name.

If the query is not located in the name database, the query is processed through a “looks like a name” function to determine if the query is a name. Systems and methods for classifying word strings as names, not names, and famous names are also provided. Systems and methods for creating name databases are also provided.

The patent application goes into a lot of detail on how famous names and non famous names, as well as phrases that might appear to be names but aren’t, are flagged by the system.

It can do this by looking at a database of names, or seeing if the words in the phrase appear to be names independently (Brandy Alexander, for instance), or by looking at search results for the phrase to see if results including words like “Biography” or “fan club” or other terms show up, indicating that the term is a name. For example, a search for “Brandy Alexander” might turn up drink recipe sites instead of biography pages.

The patent application doesn’t go into detail on what it might do with famous names when they are searched for, but you can see by looking at results for Robert Johnson or Tupac that they intend to show a pretty rich set of search results for queries involving famous people.

I feel a little sorry for famous Musicologist Alfred Einstein, who finds himself showing in Ask.com search results with pictures of the more famous Albert Einstein.

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4 thoughts on “Ask.com on Flagging Famous People”

  1. This is an interesting endeavor from Ask.com, since a large number of search engine queries are for the specific intent of finding information and locations of people.

    Could this change the concept of “Googling” people to “Asking” people?

  2. It is interesting, for just the reason that you mention.

    Right now, it seems that tagging famous names means that search results for those people tend to be visually rich, with images, encyclopedia entries where applicable, and so on. What kind of implications might it have for less famous names? Not sure at this point.

  3. Hey Bill,

    Thanks for the response.

    A web site called spock.com is trying to do a similar thing now. It gathers information on people ( both famous and not famous ) using profiles from web 2.0 sites, social network sites etc.

    Here is a quote from their about us page –

    Spock is a people search application. You can search for celebrities you love, politicians you hate, athletes on your favorite sports team, your neighbors and friends, or even people you have fallen out of touch with. For each person we find on the internet we provide links to where they are on the web. At Spock, we make finding information about people easy.

    Spock combines two very powerful forces. First, our technology organizes web content about people into easily understood search results. We search for information on bio pages, social networks, news sites, blogs, directories …pretty much every place imaginable on the internet. Second, the Spock community contributes information to help enhance the search experience. Members can add tags, pictures, and web links or simply vote on existing information to increase its relevance. Anyone can join to help make search better for everyone.

    It will be interesting to see how Spock fares as a people search engine as well as the ask.com venture.

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