The NBA announced today that it was bringing natural language queries to its online stats pages on NBA.com.
The feature enables fans to type a question in a natural way and the site should come back with your answer without having to dig for it. The feature is launching in Beta starting tomorrow.
The technology underlying this new functionality is supplied by a partnership with SAP using HANA technology. The natural language query feature takes advantage of HANA’s native text analysis ability, which can analyze the words in a question and come up with the right answer (at least that’s the theory).
This is an extension of the work the two have been doing on the NBA Stats site for the last several years. The Stats site actually came online at the All Star game in Houston in 2013.
“We formed a partnership with SAP in 2012 and have worked in conjunction with them on the development of NBA.com/Stats,” an NBA spokesperson told TechCrunch by email.
Fans can type questions like ‘Who’s the leading scorer in the NBA this year’ (Stephen Curry) and ‘How many all-star appearances has Dwayne Wade had’ (12).
Sports fans love statistics. They can argue for hours over who’s better Curry or LeBron and pull out the numbers to prove it. In fact, the NBA website is chock full of stats, but actually finding what you’re looking for often involves searching for information in a number of ways such as typing keywords in a search box, scanning alphabetical listings or changing the sort order of a chart.
Often it requires drilling down through results or scanning charts for your answer. This new type of search should help users pinpoint the information they’re looking for.
Today’s announcement is considered just a starting point. The plan is to continue to develop the natural language features, while leaving other ways to explore stats such as video box scores, player tracking information with SportVU and postgame infographics in place.
“The natural language search function will continue to evolve. It is important to note that this feature is simply another way for fans to search our official statistics on the site. Fans can still search through the various charts, content and statistical sections we have featured on the site,” the NBA spokesperson said.
Adding natural language queries should help improve the experience for visitors, and help locate the answers to specific questions, assuming it works as described. We were unable to test the site prior to publishing this report.