The Search Lounge

10/14/2004

BrainBoost


BrainBoost
Type of Engine:
Natural language.
Overall: Very Good.
If this engine were a drink it would be...a Jack and Ginger. An old-time favorite search type that tastes refreshing after not being tried for a long time.

Intro
Don't be annoyed that there's no space between the words Brain and Boost. Instead, go ahead and ask BrainBoost questions in plain English and you’ll get answers in plain English. BrainBoost boasts that it’s completely automated and uses no human editorial invention. I guess that’s impressive since it's pretty good as it is, but I still think any engine can only get better if editors are used in some capacity. And just because AskJeeves uses editors don’t let that fool you. It's commonsense to me that a successful combination of the two approaches would be best for relevance; but I digress.

The legend goes that BrainBoost was created by 24-year-old software programmer Assaf Rozenblatt. It took him a year to build it and he built it so that his fiancé could better do her college research. (And all I gave my wife was this search engine review blog. Ouch.)

BrainBoost is honest. What does that mean? It means that when it doesn’t know the answer it doesn’t pretend it does know. Usually. Of course it’s not perfect and you get your share of false positive matches, but generally speaking it’s solid.

UI and Features
The Snap Open feature is cool because it opens to the relevant part of the listing; think of an anchor tag where it takes you right to the text on the page that answers your question.
Otherwise it’s all pretty straightforward.

Query Examples
I wanted to know Tony Gwynn’s lifetime average, so I asked:
what was tony gwynn's lifetime average? and I got no results. Strange, since that should be a relatively easy one.
So I refined my query: what was tony gwynn's lifetime batting average? . This time I got 2 results and the second one has the answer displayed right there on the search results page: .339 (turns out from other results I looked at that it was actually .338, but that's certainly not BrainBoost's fault). I didn’t even have to click to the site. Now obviously that has potential repercussions for all the engines that make $ by driving traffic to sites. But for now I'll stay out of the financial fray.

For my next search I wanted to find out how much an annual subscription to Smithsonian magazine costs. So I queried:
how much is a year's subscription to smithsonian magazine? I got 2 results that both had to do with getting a subscription as part of donating to an organization. Not good.
A little refinement was in order:
what is the annual cost of smithsonian magazine? returned no results.
Better try again, but this time I gamed the system by using a keyword-based phrase query instead of natural language. subscription to Smithsonian returned 6 results, 5 of which answered my question. Though with this one I had to click on the actual results (man that sounds lazy) to see the answer to my query because BrainBoost's display text didn’t show me the answer. That’s par for the course with search engines, but I was hoping BrainBoost would display the answer right up front to this query. And in case you’re wondering, how much is a subscription to Smithsonian? had a very similar result set, though it missed one of the results from my previous query and the display text for the same results was different. But the point is I was able to query this by keywords and by natural language and get good, though slightly different, results.

And of course everyone enjoys a good laugh at the expense of natural language engines, just like we all enjoy laughing at translation engines. So here’s a good one: what is a sous chef?. The first result:
-The sous chef is legal. Hes an American.
But then a few results down is this great display text:
A sous chef is a chef ranking above line cooks and below an executive chef or chef de cuisine.
Nice!
Conclustion
Good stuff. I’m a fan and will use BrainBoost when that nagging trivia question hits me, like what’s the population of Wales? . You’ve got to see that one for yourself, because it’s really good.

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