Two new-ish search engines

Recently, while reading about methods for manipulating RDF, I discovered the search engine PowerSet. More recently, Wolfram Research’s Wolfram Alpha launched. There’s been no shortage of new search engines in the past year or so – Cuil is one that was much publicized but ended up remarkably useless – but these two still impress me.

PowerSet impresses me because of its interface – I can easily see what a particular match is about without leaving the list of search results. Speeding up the typical use cases like this is very important for usability.

Wolfram Alpha impresses me because of the quality of the results. Maybe I’m in the minority thinking this – the press seems to have been giving it mostly negative reviews. Clearly WA is not intended as a Google replacement, but perhaps it was described as being one at some point. Today, being available to the public, it’s something different. It lets me look at data, mostly of the quantitative sort, and make all sorts of semi-interactive charts and comparisons. Here are some searches I liked: earthquakes in Japan, 1 cup of coffee, Tokyo to Osaka. I especially like the interactive earthquake graph.

WA is not without its problems though. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what kind of queries you can make. I found the above mostly by experimentation. If they exposed more details about their data model and what they knew about each kind of object, maybe this would be easier. Right now I’m wondering why I can do a query like “largest cities” but not “largest cities in mexico”, for instance. I suppose this is mainly a question of maturity both on behalf of the system and of its users, though.

Search engines like PowerSet and WA are indicative of a broader trend towards semantics in computing and internet usage. While the semantic web isn’t here yet in the sense that we don’t have a semantic web browser or a unified way of querying the internet, clearly services that are based very heavily on semantic models are becoming mainstream. More on the impact of this in a future post.

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One Response to “Two new-ish search engines”

  1. Monomorphic — “True Knowledge”: Another search engine

    […] I previously commented on Wolfram Alpha and PowerSet. Fisheye Perspective now brings my attention to another “answer engine” as they are called these days: True Knowledge. You have to sign up for an account in order to test it, which I have yet to do, but one feature that’s immediately appealing is that users can add and edit content. This was apparently one of the main design principles. But is this then just an alternative to Wikipedia? Not necessarily, as it also has an inference system (it can deduce facts from other facts). And it has an API for programmatic access. I can think of many interesting uses for an online user-edited inference-enabled knowledge base, if they can get the details right. These things are still in their infancy (I hope, since I want them to be better). […]

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