Seeking search nirvana

One of the best things about the Web, of course, is that it helps people discover things they never even knew they needed to know. For instance, I've learned how to create a ball of lightning in a microwave oven as well as how to turn a teddy bear into a network switch. But my favorite example of this "find even if you didn't know to seek" phenomenon is Peep Research -- a particularly appropriate site at this Easter Bunnyish time of year.

Unfortunately, customers visiting a Web site usually aren't so amused if serendipity rules whether they get answers to their questions or not. Thus Web techs have spent years trying to create ideal search solutions -- tools that can automatically extract just the right answer from nearly any available data source with minimal human intervention (people are expensive, after all).

Thus InQuira. Less than a year old, this reborn start-up began life as two separate, competing companies, Answerfriend and Electric Knowledge. Finding themselves fighting an uphill battle for both funding and customers, the pair combined resources last June and recently launched InQuira 6, the latest version of its search and navigation product. The software reportedly can parse out natural-language queries and return spot-on answers by automatically retrieving information from a wide variety of back-end data sources. The product works in two ways: one designed primarily for customer self-service (tech-support queries and the like); the other for "interactive marketing," which presents customers with a compelling, customized view of marketing materials based on their requests. Rather than simple keyword searching, Inquira takes a semantic approach and evaluates the meaning of words in context.

InQuira will need to pardon me if I remain skeptical at this point. Its demo pages point to sites using the previous version of their product, and the answers you find are never as targeted or neatly presented as in the company's PowerPoint presentation for the latest iteration. But I, for one, hope that InQuira (or one of its competitors, such as iPhrase) does eventually make its search tool as slick as it appears in the canned demos. Because while it can be fun to stumble upon the results of what happens when you dip a marshmallow Peep in an acid bath, most of the time I'm looking for something a touch more useful -- and less messy.

This story, "Seeking search nirvana" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

Bing’s AI chatbot came to work for me. I had to fire it.
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