Definitions with Google

Definitions with Google by pendragon David Whelan I’m a big fan of reference resources: online dictionaries, online encyclopedias, you name it and I’ve probably been there and bookmarked it (favorite’d it just doesn’t sound right). The new addition of the “define:” function in the Google search engine is a terrific aggregation of all of the definitional resources out there. No longer will you need to go separately to Webopedia.com or another site to see, first, if they define the term you want and, then, whether that definition makes any sense.

Does that mean the Google search is faultless? Of course not. My first try was using “carbon”, which brought up a stack of definitions from the U.S. Geological Survey home page to the Conoco-Phillips oil company to the Apple site (so probably some different meanings of carbon!). Since the search results bring back the definition for you, there is no need to navigate off your search results. This actually plays in Google’s favor, since they can always rely on the cached version of their document to support this feature (even if the original page has disappeared).

The “define:” prefix seems to be required. A regular search on Google with the query “carbon” returned typical search results, nothing definitional. I was interested to see that you don’t get that separate “did you mean” function that you get with addresses. For example, if you type in an address in Google, it hooks into Yahoo! and Mapquest maps to give you directions. But it also gives you search results immediately below those two links. It might be a nice feature to anticipate the definitional question with a similar link, before giving all indexed links using the query terms.

One of the nice side benefits, in my mind, is that people who have invested a lot of time and effort in creating lexicon resources can now get a lot of exposure.  The Princeton Wordnet site pops up regularly on Google and is a great utility; now that I have used it, when I get there on my first definition, I will often put in one or two more that are either suggested by the results or have just been rolling around loose in my head.

Once again, Google shows why it is such a valuable prospect for companies such as Microsoft. A word on that: Microsoft buying Google is the equivalent of Ford buying Volvo – although it still says Volvo on the cars, I can’t shake the feeling that everything Ford does wrong to its own cars is now being done to the once-wonderful Volvo.

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