Google Crowdsourcing Local Information Using Contextual Questions
A newly granted Google patent starts by telling us that some searchers have problems creating helpful search queries, and looking through search results generated by queries.
In response to those problems, this patent works to suggest questions to initiate a search. It can use contextual questions based on information about a searcher such as their location or their interests. A searcher can select a question that is provided and the search engine will show answers in response to that question. The selection of answers may be used to identify additional questions related to the selected answers. This can seem like a seemingly infinite series of questions and answers if you continue to look at the answers for questions provided. The questions that are being asked allow for people to make selections, and even submit their questions.
We’ve been seeing related questions at Google which are inserted into search results, and I’ve written about those. These contextual questions seem to be a little different – and we will explore how. This patent was just granted, and I haven’t seen any questions quite like the ones described in this patent yet, but we could – they aren’t that different from the related questions that we see in many Google SERPs.
The patent provides some examples of such questions and answers based upon location
…the application can initially display an interface including relevant questions to the user based on the location of the user. For example, the user is located in downtown New York City, and the interface can display popular questions for New York City, such as “What are the best sites for New York City” and “What are the best shows to see in New York City.” The user can select the question “What are the best sites for New York City,” and in turn, the interface is updated to display relevant answers to the question, such as “Empire State Building” and “Times Square.” The user can subsequently select “Empire State Building” and the interface is further updated to include additional questions based on the answer “Empire State Building” such as “How tall is the Empire State Building” and “How old is the Empire State Building.” The user can select the question “How old is the Empire State Building” and the interface is further updated to include an answer “84 years.” Upon selection of the answer “84 years” by the user, it is determined that there are no further questions associated with the answer “84 years.” However, the interface can be updated for the input of an additional question provided by the user for association with the answer “84 years.”
The last time I wrote about questions asked and answered by Google, was in the post: Related Questions now use a Question Graph and are Joined by ‘People Also Search For’ Refinements
The point of this patent is that people don’t always quite know the right things to ask for when they might want information about a topic – so Google may show questions that may match what they might want to know more about.
The patent, like many, shows off the benefits of the process behind asking these related questions:
- Receiving data identifying one or more contexts
- Selecting an initial set of one or more questions based at least on one or more of the contexts
- Providing a respective representation of one or more of the questions of the initial set, for output
- Receiving data indicating a selection of a particular representation associated with a particular question of the initial set of questions
- Selecting a set of one or more answers associated with the particular question
- Providing a respective representation of one or more of the answers of the set that are associated with the particular question, for output
- Receiving data indicating a selection of a particular representation associated with a particular answer of the set that is associated with the particular question
- Determining that an additional set of one or more other questions is associated with the particular answer
- And in response to determining that the additional set of one or more other questions is associated with the particular answer, providing a respective representation of one or more of the other questions of the additional set, for output
A New Direction for Contextual Questions?
This patent isn’t referring to these questions as related questions, and the team of inventors that worked on the earlier versions of patents involving related questions has no overlap with this one – there are none of the same inventors listed in those patents and this one. It’s as if two different teams both took attempts at addressing asking and answering questions in search results. So What differences are there between those patents and this one?
1. The patent granted this week on Contextual Questions was the latest filed patent on questions appearing in SERPs.
2. This patent uses contextual questions, asking about things related to a searcher’s location or a searcher’s interests.
The earlier versions of patents involving questions (and there were two of them) focus upon the topics in those questions, and how they might be related to each other, but did not look at contextual information (such as location and interests), like this new patent on contextual questions – that seems to be the difference between them. I started looking through the new patent for information about Contexts, and found this in the summary section:
The one or more contexts include a location-based context of a mobile computing device providing the data identifying the one or more contexts. One or more contexts include an interest-based context of a user associated with a mobile computing device providing the data identifying the one or more contexts. The one or more of the questions of the initial set are ranked based on a popularity of each of the questions. The one or more of the answers of the set are ranked based on a popularity of each of the answers. Providing the respective representation of one or more of the answers of the set that are associated with the particular question, for output, further includes: providing, for output, a control for submission of a new answer, receiving the new answer entered through the control, and storing data associating the new answer with the particular question.
This screenshot image of a map and contextual questions from the patent show us how different it might be from the related questions that we know about:
This new Contextual Question patent can be found at:
Question and answer interface based on contextual information
Inventors: Weizhao Wang, Monica Priya Garde, Justin Min, Jiarui Li, Eyal Segalis, Daniel Walevski, Yaniv Leviathan, and Matthew Streit Coursen
US Patent: 10,289,729
Granted: May 14, 2019
Filed: March 17, 2016
Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on a computer storage medium, for receiving data identifying contexts; selecting an initial set of questions based at least on the contexts; providing a respective representation of the questions of the initial set, for output; receiving data indicating a selection of a particular representation associated with a particular question of the initial set of questions; selecting a set of answers associated with the particular question; providing a respective representation of the answers of the set that are associated with the particular question, for output; receiving data indicating a selection of a particular representation associated with a particular answer of the set that are associated with the particular question; determining that an additional set of other questions is associated with the particular answer; and in response to the determining, providing a respective representation of the other questions of the additional set, for output.
The detailed description of the patent starts by telling us about a typical presentation page for questions, as seen in this post above. It tells us that the presentation page includes a map region and a question region. The map region may be associated with the location of a mobile device where a question may be asked. The questions may contain information associated with the current location as well.
Where do Contextual Questions Come From?
They are likely associated with “a location-based context of the user.”
They may be previously provided queries from the current location of the user by other users.
Questions can also be associated with “an interest-based context of the user.”
Those interests can be determined by “explicit interests indicated by the user” or from sources such as social networking profiles and might include such things as eating preferences, price preferences, and so on.
Examples of Contextual Questions
In addition to answering questions such as “Are there any good restaurants around here?”. Followup questions may show menu items from specific restaurants that may be selected, and ask for opinions on specific dishes from those restaurants.
This seems to be a way to help a searcher become familiar with information about the area they may find themselves in. It looks like it could be something that I would find useful if I was visiting someplace that I hadn’t been to before, and wanted to find out about nearby hotels, restaurants, stores, and clubs.
The patent allows searchers to vote on questions and answers such as “What are the best Fast Food places nearby?” So these contextual queries enable Google to crowdsource information about locations from searchers. Being shown as a potential choice for a question such as “What is the best place to get food around here?” could lead to more business for restaurants listed, and nothing in the patent suggests how to be selected as a potential answer to a question like that. But it’s possible that as Google learns about an area they may use information from sources such as submissions to Google My Business, from listings in local directories and data aggregators and enterprise websites, and from questions to local guides who answer questions about places for Google.
Different from Google Local Guide Questions
These aren’t today’s related questions, but this kind of contextual question seems to be the kind of thing I could see Google offering. As a Google Local Guide, Google asks a lot of questions about places that I may have visited in the past. These contextual questions would be a good addition to those. The local guide questions are a little different, such as whether there are ATMs at certain locations, and if handicap parking spaces are available, or parking overall. Or if certain items are available at stores or restaurants. Or if children are welcome at certain locations.