There are few things more satisfying than asking a search engine a question and immediately getting an answer. No weeding through Wikipedia entries. No sifting through spammy links. Just give me what I want to know.
For years sites like Ask.com and Google have offered this feature, but only for purely factual information – things like “What is the longest river on Earth?”. But try asking “How do I bait a fishhook”, and you’re left to fend for yourself.
Centrif, a new site that just launched in public beta, is looking to change this by offering a service that acts like a mix between a bookmarking service and an online reference guide.
Instead of indexing the internet, Centrif relies on user submissions to determine the best answers to each question. As they find informative pages across the web, users are invited to share their discoveries (along with the questions they answer) with others. Users can add pages to Centrif’s index using a bookmarket, a Firefox extension, or through the site itself.
Later on, users can ask questions at Centrif’s main site, which draws from these previously bookmarked pages. Questions that have been answered multiple times will have their links ranked according to their popularity, presumably allowing the most authoritative answers to rise to the top.
Unfortunately, the site still has some obvious shortcomings that severely handicap its utility. For one, the search will only find a match if every word in a query is included in a result’s description. A search for “What is James Bond’s favorite car” would not pull up a page that had been tagged “What is James Bond’s car?”, because the word “favorite” wouldn’t match. The site doesn’t have a synonym dictionary either, which makes searching even more difficult.
Beyond these search issues, Centrif simply doesn’t have many answers yet. The site is going to have serious trouble with the “chicken and the egg” problem – until it builds up a comprehensive database, few people will have a reason to use it. And it doesn’t have much to offer as a pure bookmarking tool either – there are plenty of mature competitors like delicious that have much more to offer.