Searching Wikipedia the way

Posted By on May 13, 2008 SearchingSearch technology is improving daily and its a good thing considering the amount of information expanding on the web. A company called Powerset has recently launched their their first product which improves Wikipedia searching. Current search uses keywords to return results, but this isn’t always the easiest way to narrow and find answers. What Powerset does is to use “ordinary human language” in the form of phrases or simple questions to improve results. It doesn’t stop once a subject is found, but adds powerful tools which help surf through the article finding the exact content through an embedded “Article Outline” sidebar. Its quick and easy use either the “Outline” or “Factz” scanning of the Wikipedia article using this tool. I’ll use a “biodiesel” search question as my example below.

Search Question
First, navigate to the page and enter in a question. Mine was an attempt to find the ASTM standards for bioidiesel so I asked a basic question which returned several results noting highlighted segments of Wikipedia’s database. Simple to see that the first result looks like it should work, I select it with a click. (I could also select the ‘down arrowhead’ to expand the article inline — nice touch)
Article Outline boxThe Wikipedia information is then displayed along with several navigation and “Factz” adds in an embedded right sidebar. This is used to speedily navigate and find information in the article. In my search, I’m looking for the ASTM Technical Standard for biodiesel which you’ll note Powerset has highlighted in their “Article Outline” embedded sidebar. Simple enough, select the yellow highlighted “Technical Standards” and the article scrolls swiftly up or down to locate that information … which again is highlighted in the Wikipedia article. (below)
wikipedia article on biodiesel
Although I haven’t used Powerset all that much yet, I’m bookmarking (and Tabbing on my tool bar in place of Wikipedia) for everyday use. Be sure to give it a try and check out the “Factz” feature too.

What are Factz?
Factz are concise representations of information extracted from sentences. They are represented in three parts: the subject, relation and object (e.g. Oswald shot JFK). Factz are one way that Powerset represents the meaning of a sentence. Of course, Factz do not always represent truth, but rather propositions that are asserted in the text of Wikipedia.
On the search results page, you will often see Factz for general topic queries. These Factz are collected from pages across Wikipedia. Click a word in one of the three columns to see the sentences that support the selected fact.
On a particular topic page, you can see the Factz extracted from the given page in the outline. Click on one to scroll directly to the sentence from which the fact was derived.

Powerset Demo Video from officialpowerset on Vimeo.


Desultory - des-uhl-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee

  1. lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful: desultory conversation.
  2. digressing from or unconnected with the main subject; random: a desultory remark.
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