As useful as internet search engines are, they have a pretty big flaw: They often deliver too much information, and a lot of it isn’t quite what students are looking for. But some intriguing new technologies are getting better at bringing order to all that chaos and could revolutionize how students and others mine the internet for information.
Newly emerging software now can analyze search results and automatically sort them into categories that, at a glance, present far more information than the typical textual list.
“We enliven the otherwise deadening process of searching for information,” said Raul Valdes-Perez, co-founder of Vivisimo Inc., which quickly puts search results into clickable categories.
Pittsburgh-based Vivisimo sells its technology to companies and intelligence agencies, and it offers free web searches at Vivisimo.com.
Valdes-Perez describes his company this way: If the internet is a giant bookstore in which all the books are piled randomly on the floor, then Vivisimo is like a superfast librarian who can arrange the titles on shelves instantly in a way that makes sense.
Consider it a 21st-century Dewey Decimal System designed to fight information overload. But unlike libraries, Vivisimo doesn’t use predefined categories. Its software determines them on the fly, depending on the search results. The filing is done through a combination of linguistic and statistical analysis, a method that even works with other languages.
A similar process powers Grokker, a downloadable program that not only sorts search results into categories but also “maps” the results in a holistic way, showing each category as a colorful circle. Within each circle, subcategories appear as more circles that can be clicked on and zoomed in on.
It takes a few minutes to get used to Grokker. But the value of its nonlinear approach quickly becomes clear.
Let’s say, for example, you’re curious about accommodations in France and enter a search for “Paris Hilton.”
Google recognizes this as a search in the category of “Regional-Europe-Travel and Tourism-Lodging-Hotels” but still produces page after page with links about celebrity socialite Paris Hilton and her exploits. That’s because Google’s engine ranks pages largely based on how many other sites link to them, sending the most popular pages to the top.
If you run the search on Grokker, however, the resulting circle shows all the possible categories of information the internet offers on a search for “Paris Hilton”–including reviews, maps, and online booking sites for the Hilton hotel in Paris, which are all but buried in the Google rankings. Now you’ve much more quickly found not what is popular among internet gawkers, but what is genuinely useful to you.
Groxis Inc., the 15-person company that introduced Grokker last year and released an upgraded, $49 second version in December, is not out to replace Google. Grokker is not in itself a search engine–it only analyzes and illustrates search engines’ results.
For example, if you use Grokker2 to search the web, it combines results from six search engines: Yahoo, MSN, AltaVista, Wisenut, Teoma, and FAST, a business-focused product by a Norwegian company.
Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Los Angeles are among the 25 school systems that have purchased Grokker2, said R.J. Pittman, chief executive of Sausalito, Calif.-based Groxis. The company is targeting schools along with other markets, and volume pricing is available for as low as $25 per copy of the software.
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