Search Sites Try to Give Instant Answers

Direct Answers: No Search Engine Aced Our Test (chart)

Web search champ Google was as good at answering our natural-language questions as the three sites that promote their ability to respond to questions rather than keyword phrases. Our goal was to see the correct answer without having to follow a link on the results page (no clicks). We gave the sites partial credit for providing the answer on the top link's page (one click), and for having the answer in its top ten links (two or more clicks). Following are 15 questions that represent the dozens we posed to each service, along with the correct answers. Also listed are two keyword phrases that we submitted to the sites as a control.

Question Answers.com Ask Jeeves MSN Search Google
Who was the 17th president of the United States? (Answer: Andrew Johnson) No clicks No clicks No clicks No clicks
What is the best way to start a barbeque? (Answer: barbecue safety tips) Two or more clicks Two or more clicks One click Two or more clicks
How do you light a barbeque? (Answer: barbecue safety tips) Two or more clicks One click One click Two or more clicks
What are roundheads? (Answer: supporters of the Parliamentarians in the 17th-century English civil war) No clicks Two or more clicks No clicks No clicks
What is the correct name of Mt. McKinley? (Answer: Denali) Two or more clicks One click Two or more clicks Two or more clicks
Which states use daylight saving time? (Answer: all but Hawaii and Arizona) Two or more clicks One click One click Two or more clicks
What was John Dillinger famous for? (Answer: Depression-era bank robber) One click No clicks No clicks No clicks
How do you make ceviche? (Answer: Mexican fish-dish recipe) Two or more clicks Two or more clicks One click Two or more clicks
Who were the wives of Henry VIII? (Answer: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Katherine Parr) No clicks One click Two or more clicks One click
What is Medigap insurance? (Answer: Medicare supplement insurance) One click No clicks One click One click
What is the semaphore timeout period has expired error? (Answer: Windows error message indicating a problem with a DVD burner) Two or more clicks Two or more clicks Two or more clicks Two or more clicks
What is the speed of USB 2.0 versus SATA? (Answer: USB 2.0, 480 mbps; SATA, 1.5 gbps) Two or more clicks (No answer in top 10) Two or more clicks Two or more clicks
What is the speed of USB 2.0 versus ethernet? (Answer: USB 2.0, 480 mbps; ethernet, 10 mbps to 100 mbps) Two or more clicks (No answer in top 10) Two or more clicks Two or more clicks
What is the temperature in Paris? (Answer: 66 degrees Fahrenheit with light drizzle, last time we checked) Two or more clicks No clicks One click Two or more clicks
When is high tide on October 15, 2005, in Santa Monica, California? (Answer: 8:32 a.m. and 8:41 p.m.) One click (No answer in top 10) One click One click
tide table October 15, 2005, Santa Monica, California One click (No answer in top 10) (No answer in top 10) One click
high tide Santa Monica, California One click Two or more clicks One click One click

COMMENTS: Answers.com's results are nearly identical to those of Google, but with several general-interest questions leading to an "answer" page rather than to a list of Web results. When we tested, AskJeeves listed more sponsored links than nonsponsored ones, but subsequently the site has removed many of these ads. MSN Search returns a large number of sponsored links, but it was the fastest of the bunch. On some searches (such as "Where is Algerie?"), MSN corrected misspellings on the fly with no user intervention. On Google's results page, unobtrusive sponsored links are placed on the right side. On some searches (such as "Where is Algerie?"), Google corrected misspellings on the fly with no user intervention, and sometimes suggested the correct spelling.

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