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Hack 40. GooglePeople

People who need GooglePeople are the luckiest people in the world.

Sometimes on the Web it's hard to separate the signal from the noise. It's also hard to separate information about people from information about everything else. That's where GooglePeople (http://www.avaquest.com/demos) comes in. GooglePeople takes a "Who Is" or "Who Was" query (e.g., "Who was the first man on the moon?" or "Who was the fifth president of the United States?") and offers a list of possible candidates. It works well for some questions, but for others it's way off base.

40.1. Using GooglePeople

GooglePeople is simple: enter a "Who Is" or "Who Was" question in the query box. GooglePeople will think about it for a minute or three and provide you with a list of possible candidates to answer your question, with the most likely candidate on top, the other candidates listed underneath and rated for relevance with a series of asterisks.

Click a candidate name for a Google query integrating your original query and the candidate's name; this provides a quick test of the validity and usefulness of the GooglePeople query at hand.

40.2. Tips for Using GooglePeople

I found that for some questions GooglePeople worked very well. Who was the first African American woman in space? was answered perfectly. But some questions had GooglePeople perplexed.

40.2.1. Books and authors

GooglePeople seems to have a bit of trouble with identifying the authors of fiction books. For example, asking Who is the author of "Galahad at Blandings", GooglePeople will not confidently give an answer but will suggest that the most likely person is Bertie Wooster. Bertie is close, but no cigar; he's a fictional character created by the same author of Galahad at Blandings—P. G. Wodehouse—but he's far from an author. GooglePeople was able to state with confidence that Mark Twain was the author of Huckleberry Finn.

40.2.2. Numbers

Sometimes expressing numbers as numbers (1st) rather than words (first) makes a lot of difference in results. Asking GooglePeople about the first person to do something versus the "1st" person to do something can lead to very different results, so be sure to try both versions.

40.2.3. Mind your questions

Finally, don't try subjective questions if you seriously expect a good answer. Asking GooglePeople, Who's the most popular singer? or Who is the smartest person in the world? can net you some wild answers.

40.3. Using GooglePeople

While GooglePeople can appear to be a toy, it does come in handy for ready-reference questions. Obviously, you should be sure to double-check any answers you get against the full list of web answers for your question. And remember, just because it's on the Web doesn't mean it's credible!

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