Outside Company Offers Smarter Wikipedia Searches

Dennis Faas's picture

If you're a Wikipedia fan, you've probably noticed that the site's biggest drawback is its search facility. That's because the internal search tool appears to be largely based on early search engines, which simply measure how often and how prominently a particular phrase appears on any given page.

While it's still a useful technique, such systems can feel quite ineffective now that we're used to more sophisticated searches such as Google, which takes into account how prestigious and respected each site is in the Internet community.

And the Wikipedia system has a big drawback in that it doesn't have any human-like intuition or common sense. For example, if you mistype a word, it's often unable to find what you are looking for.

That could all be about to change, though. A company named Powerset has launched a free service to search Wikipedia more effectively, promising to answer questions rather than just throw up information which might not be relevant.

The service not only returns a list of pages that match the query, but it highlights the particular phrases which appear to best answer it. (Source: nytimes.com)

Powerset's general manager Scott Prevost said such 'semantic searching' allowed users more freedom than the existing Wikipedia search. "We are not searching for exact words, but concepts."

At the moment, the Wikipedia search is simply a high-profile way for Powerset to show off their technology. It's unlikely they'd have the capability to apply it to the entire Internet any time soon, but they are looking to set-up deals with other sites with a great deal of information that could benefit from easier searching, such as the CIA Factbook. In the meantime, Powerset hopes to fund its 60-employee business through online advertising. (Source: reuters.com)

There's no official relationship between Powerset and Wikipedia, and it's unlikely Wikipedia would be able to buy out the technology. However, some analysts have speculated that if the system proves itself in the long run, it could be a viable purchase for a firm such as Microsoft which wants to seriously challenge Google in the search-engine market.

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