Playing Games and Answering Questions

One of the most common activities on the web is searching for answers to questions, and search engines are one way to find some answers. But they aren’t the only means available on the web and people have been turning to places like forums, through usenet, and in many different sites that provide people the chance to interact.

Microsoft has a new patent application for a Game-powered search engine (US Patent Application 20060167874) that looks at some of those means as the groundwork for this invention of theirs.

The listed inventors are Luis A. von Ahn Arellano, Eric D. Brill, John C. Platt, and Josh Benaloh, and it was filed on January 24, 2005 and published July 27, 2006. Here’s the abstract:

The subject invention provides a unique system and method that facilitates an interactive game-powered search engine that serve the purposes of both users who may be looking for information as well as game participants who may desire to earn some reward or level of enjoyment by playing the game. More specifically, the system and method provides feedback to a user based on the user’s input string or a string derived therefrom. The feedback can be a response or answer to the user’s input in the form of text, an image, audio or sound, video, and/or a URL that is provided by one or more game participants when there is some degree of consistency or agreement between the responses or when individual players have demonstrated good reliability in their responses.

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Which Newark is the Dominant Newark? Classification of Ambiguous Geographical References in Local Search

A local search engine works by attempting to return relevant web pages associated with a specific geographical region or location. When the search engines index web pages, it can be helpful to attempt to automatically associate thoses pages, or sections of them with specific places or regions.

Ideally, for example, a web page about a restaurant in New York City should be associated with New York City. This connection can be easier to create if there is clearly a postal address or other geographical information on the page associated with that location and restuarant. But sometimes, a page will only contain a partial address or information that makes it difficult to to draw that connection between page and place.

Another issue that comes up in local search is which geographical region should the search engine show results from when there may be more than one location or region with the same name, or a similar name. For instance, If I want to order a pizza from one of the local pizzerias, I might search for Pizza Newark, but I probably won’t be happy with the Google local results which show Newark, New Jersey, pizza places, instead of Newark, Delaware.

Yes, I can add a zip code, or state name, and that will solve the problem. But I want to know why the local search chooses New Jersey. Is Newark New Jersey, the most important Newark in the world, or is there some other reason?

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Pizza at the Center of New York: Relevancy, Google Local, and Local Results in Organic Searches

When I search for Pizza in New York in Google Local, I’m told that there are about 79,400 results. The top result I see is Lombardi’s Pizza, which is “0.8 mi NE” of the green arrow on the map that points to New York.

Exactly what is that green arrow pointing to, and why does Lombardi’s Pizza show up number one?

To rephrase that question, how does a site to become the “authority” for a region, for a business type, rather than an authority for a specific location and business name?

In Authority Documents for Google’s Local Search, I wrote about a patent application that described how a specific site would show up first when searching for a specific business name and location. The author of that patent filing, Daniel Egnor, was the named inventor on a number of others on local search that came out the same week. This post is about one of those other ones, which is the only one I can recall from Google that talks about identifying specific regions, and tying them to queries about business types:

Indexing documents according to geographical relevance
US Patent Application 20060149774

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Digital Flyers on the Web

Living in a college town, it’s not uncommon to see bulletin boards with activities, opportunities, and advertisements listed all over them. There’s a certain artistic aspect to them when taken in from a short distance.

One of my favorite music stores has a board like that on the side of their building. I was reminded of that when a friend sent me a link to a page that he’s building called The Flyer Wall. There’s an aspect to it of the million dollar homepage, but one main difference is that the designer behind the page is an excellent graphic artist, and he’s creating the images behind the flyers’ posted on the wall. It’s still in its infancy, but I like what he’s done.

Was the million dollar homepage a one time phenomenon? Will people be attracted to a site like this, designed by a skilled graphic artist? I’m not sure, but we will probably see more like it in the months to come.

Imagine taking the concept off the web, and onto a building – ‘Million Dollar Homepage’ Concept Hits Outdoor Market

Cheers for Google’s New Accessible Search

Some very good news from Reuters (via John Blossoms’s Content Blogger), Google is testing more accessible Web search for the visually impaired.

At Google Labs, you can now find Google’s Accessible Web Search for the Visually Challenged . It doesn’t look that different from the regular Google Interface, but the difference appears to happen behind the scenes. According the Accessible Search FAQ, it goes beyond finding the most relevant results by finding the most accessible pages from the normal web search result set.

I tried a few searches, and they confirmed that rankings do change, and sometimes significantly, for those searches. I’m seeing sites that were constructed with accessibility as a major goal move up considerably in rankings.

The FAQ tells us that it looks at HTML markup, and

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Will the Government Link to Your Pages?

A question from a recent visitor asked about how to get a government web site to link to their site. It was a good question, and I sent a response with a couple of ideas, and a postscript noting that it was such a good question that I was considering writing a blog post on the topic.

First, I want to mention that their question really had nothing to do with the idea that a link from a government site would somehow increase their rankings in the search engines more than links from other pages. But, let me address that aspect of links from government sites briefly.

Is a link from a .gov or a .edu worth more than a link from another set of pages? The truth is that we don’t really know.

There are a handful of references in patent applications and whitepapers that say positive things about government web sites. For instance, the Google patent application Information retrieval based on historical data says this about links from government sites:

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Conceptual Highlighting in Electronic Text

Imagine that you are scrolling through a page, and see a section of the page highlighted. The text in that area matches an interest profile that you recently created, or it’s along the same topics that you’ve been searching through. Or it is somehow conceptually related to whatever you searched for that may have brought you to this page.

A patent application from the Palo Alto Research Center describes how something like this might work. Instead of highlighting only keywords, the following suggests ways to highlight sentences and sections of web pages that related in some conceptual manner to something that you may be searching for.

Method for automatically performing conceptual highlighting in electronic text

The inventors named in the patent are:

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An Early Personalized Recommendation System – Firefly

I’ve been taking a look at personalized recommendations systems recently, and one of the systems that I remember from earlier days on the web was for music, through a service known as Firefly. I’ve always wondered whatever happened to the service, and the people behind it.

I know that at one point, the company providing this service was partnered with Yahoo, and then it was later purchased by Microsoft. This personalized system was originally developed at MIT, and was incorporated into a business in 1995, by graduate students and Professor Patti Maes. Some of the technology developed by the company transformed into Microsoft’s Passport system.

Wired has a nice write up of the company in an article titled Firefly’s Dim Light Snuffed Out

In an article from this past May, Pitchfork also discusses some of those early days, when the professor turned to her students for some music recommendations because she didn’t like what was playing on Boston radio at the time, in Chris Dahlen’s Better Than We Know Ourselves. The article also looks at some more recent music recommendation systems.

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