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Innovations in web information retrieval

Mainstream search engines offer new products


A trend gaining momentum in the search space is the proliferation of search engines that let a user frame questions in natural language.

Many innovations are taking place in the on-line information retrieval realm. This week NetSpeak discusses some of them.

As repeated in this column several times, locating relevant/authoritative resources has always been a challenge to a netizen. To counter this search bottleneck, different types of search services meant for enriching the search arena regularly pop-up.

Even mainstream search engines (like Google and Yahoo) are offering new products/strategies/innovations destined to weave the search output with relevant/credible links. Googleknol (http://knol.google.com), the much-discussed product from Google, is an instance of this trend. Googleknol provides a platform for an expert to write a well-researched article on any subject of her/his choice and publish it for the whole world to read/comment. Compared to other similar services (like Wikipedia), the uniqueness of Googleknol is that here the identity of an author can be verified. Also, an author can allow others to edit/modify the content.

Another trend, gaining momentum in the search space, is the proliferation of search engines that let a user frame questions in natural language. Instead of just entering a couple of search terms in the input box, these search engines encourage the user to enter queries in natural language. For instance, if one is looking for remedies to control blood pressure, she/he can invoke a search with the string ‘How can I control BP?’

The search engines (known also as semantic search engines) comprehend the meaning of the query and present web pages with appropriate content. Here, the innovation lies in the attempt to understand the meaning of the search term (instead of just producing a list of web pages that contain the search term). Search engines like Hakia ( http://www.hakia.com/), Lexxe ( http://www.lexxe.com/) — both discussed in the past — belong to this category. Cognition ( http://www.cognition.com/ ), the search service devoted to domains such as legal, health and wiki is another such product worth a test.

Trueknowledge ( http://www.trueknowledge.com/), the service in private beta, is yet another search engine that lets you enter queries in natural language. Though this author’s attempt to obtain answers to some queries did not yield good results, one has to wait till the service updates its knowledge base fully.

Yet another innovative search service stumbled on by this author is Trovix ( http://www.trovix.com/), a personalised job search service. Instead of searching against a query string (like job title), the service analyses your resume (uploaded to the service) and displays jobs that match its contents.

Another tool developed for complementing web searches is Surfcanyon ( http://www.surfcanyon.com/). Once the tool is integrated with your browser whenever you invoke a search on Google/Yahoo/MSN, Surfcanyon examines the search output, analyses the content and suggests similar sites for each of the links in the search results. You can obtain these recommendations by clicking on ‘Bull’s eye’ icon corresponding to each of the links.

Sensebot ( http://www.sensebot.net/), a tool meant for providing summary of the web pages in a search output, could come in handy while doing research on a specific topic (as you can use this summary to obtain an overview of the topic). To try the service, press the button ‘Try Sensebot’, select your favourite search engine and enter the search query. Along with regular search results, you will find an option to display the summary of the results as well. Gigablast (http://gigablast.com/) is yet another search service worth a look. An advantage of this service is its facility to select web pages based on freshness.

The service allows us to obtain web pages posted in the last day, week or month.

A generic language tool

While dealing with a text material we need to do several tasks. If it is in an alien language we need to translate it; if we come across an unfamiliar word we need to find its meaning. There are umpteen services on the Net meant for helping us accomplish the afore mentioned tasks. However, unless one remembers the appropriate links or keep them handy on the browser, it will be difficult to access them. But the entry of Foxlingo http://www.concisefreeware.com/foxlingo.php, the generic language services tool, could change all that.

Once this browser extension is integrated with Firefox, you can access a variety of on-line language services (translation services and dictionary services) directly from your browser.

One of the challenges in building web sites is to make the pages compatible with all browsers. In this regard, the web application Browsershots (http://browsershots.org/), created for facilitating a web master test her pages on a variety of web browsers on multiple platforms could come in handy. After submitting the web site’s address to Browsershots, reload the page. At this point the application will display the screen shots of your web page loaded on different browsers. With this service you can test your web design in more than 50 browsers

The process of representing a data set graphically, to interpret and gain more insights about it, is called data visualisation.

When one publishes an idea/comment/conclusion, it becomes more scientific/authentic, provided it is supported with data.

J. MURALI

He can be contacted at: jmurali@gmail.com

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