After a slow start in the United States, text messaging finally has taken off as a popular form of communication. As its use has grown, several companies (besides the carriers) have jumped in to make money from the technology. One such company is AskMeNow, which offers a convenient and surprisingly accurate service that should please trivia nuts and information hogs.
AskMeNow promises to answer a variety of queries through text messages. Simply send the service a text with your question (see below for the range of possibilities) and AskMeNow will respond right away. Each question costs 25 cents each plus your carrier's text messaging fee, and the charges will show up on your normal carrier bill. That's a bit overpriced in our opinion--particular since Google Mobile doesn't charge for its competing service--and because some answers can arrive in multiple messages, your charges can shoot up quickly if you carrier charges for each message received.
Using a pool of information specialists in the Philippines, AskMeNow says it can answer just about any question for which there is an answer on the Internet. And in that respect, it delivered. Within just a few minutes, it correctly identified the capital of Paraguay, when the Battle of Gettysburg occurred, the chemical symbol for potassium, and when All in the Family appeared on television. It also told us how many meters are in a mile, the distance between San Francisco and Sydney (both in miles and nautical miles), the French word for "highway," and which musical artist sang "Hung Up" (Madonna and Paul Weller).
In short, it handled just about any question we asked and answers usually were quite in-depth. It even answered a trick question by telling us where Sri Lanka is, when we asked the location of Ceylon (the country's former name). It couldn't tell us, however, how many 747s Boeing built (we know that's random but the answer--1,375--is on the Internet), and it wouldn't tell us the number of McDonald's restaurants in Maryland because the question "conflicted with our question and answer policies," which limit the system from answering "in-depth research questions" or anything that doesn't meet its "family-friendly" editorial standards. To be fair though, we couldn't find a quick answer either.
AskMeNow also was successful in providing 411 listings, movie theater locations and show times, stock quotes, a three-day weather forecast by zip code, sports scores, and flight arrival and departure times for major airlines. It could look up reverse directory listings when we provided the phone number and got the address in return. Inspirational quotes, horoscopes, and a joke of the day are more amusing distractions.
You also can get news headlines organized by keyword (such as "business" or "entertainment), but the results we got were a bit scattered and often confusing. For example, when we asked for the top headlines of the day for Dec. 8, it listed Rebecca Romijn joining the cast of Ugly Betty as the second most important story of the day. Also, a story on the injuries to Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris had the cryptic headline, "D-line hamstrung: Harris may even miss postseason."