Not to be outdone by Google’s efforts this week, Ask.com have also expanded their search technology to return specific ‘direct’ answers to searches, where possible, by means of semantic language processing.

Fortunately far more public than Google, Ask.com announced on their blog yesterday that they’ve been developing proprietry semantic analysis technology since October of last year in their efforts of advancing the next generation of search tools.

DADS(SM) (Direct Answers from Databases), DAFS(SM) (Direct Answers from Search), and AnswerFarm(SM) technologies, which are breaking new ground in the areas of semantic, web text, and answer farm search technologies. Specifically, the increasing availability of structured data in the form of databases and XML feeds has fueled advances in our proprietary DADS technology. With DADS, we no longer rely on text-matching simple keywords, but rather we parse users’ queries and then we form database queries which return answers from the structured data in real time. Front and center. Our aspiration is to instantly deliver the correct answer no matter how you phrased your query.

The results aren’t returned as explicitly as Google’s, mainly due to the amount of adverts above the page fold, but they work. Try searching for ‘Football on TV this weekend‘ or ‘Movies on TV now‘ and you’ll see the results in accordingly custom-formatted sections.

Unfortunately the results are still only returned in HTML, so again – the term ‘semantics’ here describes the form of processing Ask.com are doing beind the scenes rather than depicting this as their first outright foray in to the Semantic Web (capital S).

This though is proprietary technology and presumably it’ll stay that way. So I’m unsure whether to celebrate their realisation of the importance of semantics (in search at least) or in realising their more ‘closed source’ ethos, consider this to be almost against the idea of the Semantic Web – portability, sharing, transparency – as they hold these advances close to their chest in order to gain an edge over their competitors, causing others in the future to understandably do too.

Windows are for cheaters, chimneys for the poor.