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New technology makes searching easier

October 12, 1999
Web posted at: 11:36 a.m. EDT (1536 GMT)

by Jason Meserve

Network World Fusion

NEW YORK (IDG) -- Searching the Internet and corporate intranet could get easier in the near future. It could be as simple as asking a question thanks to five companies demonstrating technology at Internet World last week.

Oingo, LexiQuest,, Albert and KCSL have all announced new search tools based on natural language queries -- the ability to phrase a search request in plain English rather than complex Boolean terms used by many of today's search engines. Though all five take a slightly different approach, the end result is the same: to cut through the clutter and deliver the information users are looking for.

"The Internet will be truly successful when it becomes much more user friendly," says Bruno Henry, CEO of LexiQuest in New York. "The telephone is easy because it is human to human, the Internet is still human to machine."
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LexiQuest is hoping to bridge the gap between human and machines by offering a software application that sits on an existing server-based search engine and uses a dictionary and grammar rules to interpret the meaning of a query. After interpreting the meaning of the query, LexiQuest builds a structured Boolean query to help maximize the accuracy of search results.

Los Angeles' Oingo uses what it calls the Oingo Lexicon, a dictionary tailored to Web searching, to help interpret the meanings of English-based queries. The company is currently demonstrating the technology at its Web site ( But plans are in the works to deliver other Lexicon's tailored around specific industries or company needs.

French-developed Albert is also server-based but instead of using a dictionary to help interpret the meaning of searches, the engine builds user profiles and refines searches based on a user's past history. "We don't want to impose on the user at all," says Pierre Levin, Albert's chief financial officer. "We want the user to be able to enter a search in their own language."

Albert is said to be able to track a users search patterns and limit results to what it thinks a user is looking for based on past history. For instance, if a user is to search for services and businesses in the Boston area all the time, Albert will refine future searches to include only those possible results that are related to Boston, says Levin. Albert is a metasearch engine, culling results from multiple public search engines simultaneously.'s KnowAll and X-Portal use PC-based tools to scour multiple public search sites for results. KnowAll from Los Angeles' uses a linguistic engine to interpret a user's English-based question, then uses public search engines to aggregate possible results that are analyzed by the internal engine.

X-Portal, from KCSL of Toronto, uses compressed internal datasources such as dictionaries and encyclopedia data to help verify search results. The company's tool will search its own database (one gigabyte of information compressed down to 160 megabytes) first, then compares the external results to the internal, ranking and presenting only those that best fit what the user is searching for.

"We have a standard for results' quality," says Ilia Kaufman, president of X-Portal. "If [an external] result does not measure up, we toss it."

Though it comes with a number of built in external search sources, users can train X-Portal to search sites of their choosing.

Natural language search theories have been bandied about for a number of years with more bark than bite. Based on the showings last week, natural language searches could be making a splash on a search engine nearby soon.

LexiQuest, available for Windows NT and Unix, starts at $10,000. KnowAll and X-Portal are available for the Windows platform and priced at $60 and $90, respectively.

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The query quandary
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Kaufman Consulting Services Ltd. (KCSL)
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