Meaningful Search

I subscribe to the AI mailinglist, and yesterday something caught my eye namely the referral to a website with only good news. This is actually a collection of sites, and the compilation is done, not by computers, but by three people in the small company Nononina.

Although I really appreciate the talents that must be involved in keeping such collections alive, I’m also very intrigued by the technology behind semantic search. With by background in computational linguistics, I can’t help but wonder about how we can move from the kind of very rudimentary search most of use, typing a word or two into the search field at Google and then browsing through the first of the 235.366 documents, towards something more meaningful.

According to the researchers who recently gathered at the ESWC08 conference, there are several challenges that semantic search systems try to address such as how semantic technologies can be used to capture the information need of the user or how what the users wants to know more about can be translated into language the computer understands without forcing him or her to use weird symbols? With so many documents produced, it is no wonder that the EU Commission has spent some money on semantic search projects, Alvis being one of them. And it comes as no surprise that the Finns are really good at semantic computing, since almost nobody (or at least less than 6 million people) can understand their language. This means that it probably will not be included in the semantic search engine Hakia, since they “plan to cover all languages spoken by significant number of people”.

Another big challenge is the increasing move from text to pictures, audio and movies. The Horizon Report from The New Media Consortium talks about trends in use of technology in education and one of their observations is that “grass root video” is really catching on. Of course, already some applications try to address this such as the Media Mill. It would be really interesting if it could be applied to user generated material such as the stuff presented by Al Gore’s Current TV. Again, this is something the EU addresses. Audio and visual search is the topic of the CHORUS coordination action and there is even some hope for disruptive innovation, something that is always delightful from an investment perspective.

Now, if you are really into semantic search what do you do? A semantic search engine searching for semantic web documents, of course. It is called Swoogle. If you are a researcher and want to try semantic search features in order to find colleagues (or potential competitors), you can try the ResearchGate. See the video below on how to use it.

However, even with the help of semantic search engines, how are we going to find things that are relevant for us? How on earth can we navigate in the ecology of attention, described so accurately by Davenport and Beck in “The attention economy” and in “The Economics of Attention” by Lanham?

Dewitt Jones, a photographer often working for National Geographic, emphasizes that we should look for what is right with the world. This philosophy has made him a great photographer, but has also provided him with personal direction. Something he has captured in a beautiful and pedagogical way in his video. If you want to know what Appreciative Inquiry is all about in plain language, this is an excellent way to get all the basic concepts together with some really beautiful pictures.

Of course, the EU Commission is on top of this issue and provides research success stories where some of them have even reached stardom. But what can we do in our daily lives? Could search research find ways for us to become more aware of what is good, beautiful and right? To make us search for and find things that build on our strengths? Instead of “I feel lucky” maybe Google could have a button called “Make me happy”.

One way of increasing the relevance in results from search engines is to make use of the features provided by WordsCloseTogether. They make sure that you get only results where the words you are looking for are written less than 100 words apart. Sprung from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, it is no wonder that the company mission is to serve people. I do like their comment on Google’s mission statement:
With all due respect to Google Inc., "Don't be evil" is a negative theme. Google's nineteen thousand plus employees would be better directed by servant marketing themes that are fully respectful of key human values.

Now, isn’t that something meaningful to search for?

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