TextDigger, Hakia say they can improve search

diggerlogo.bmpTextDigger is the latest company seeking that Holy Grail: Improving on Google’s results by understanding the sense of the words you’re looking for.

TextDigger’s search engine is called Digger, and it just launched at the DEMO conference.

First, some context: Digger, of San Jose, joins Powerset, the San Francisco start-up, and Hakia, of New York, and others which are trying to do something similar. Our piece on Powerset sparked debate within the search industry, namely because some experts believe automated search engines can never understand words the same way we humans do. Google, many think, is doing about as good a job as is possible. Google doesn’t try to assign meaning to your search term. It merely ranks the pages it thinks are the most popular that contain those words. Powerset still hasn’t launched. Hakia has, sort of, which we’ll get to in a minute.

TextDigger addresses the semantics problem by asking users to help it. If you search for “hotel with a view of the golden gate bridge,” it will tell you what it assumes about your intended meaning, and then asks you to modify. “View,” it tells you, means panoramic view, as opposed to personal belief. That might be fine, but what if you want personal belief?

By clicking on “refine keywords,” you can tell it you want “view” to mean personal belief (see screenshot below), or both panoramic view and personal belief. In other words, it is a classic Web 2.0 company, getting the masses to work on its behalf, and in turn improve results for everyone. This is significant, because Digger launches ahead of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales’ effort to do something similar. Digger relies on what people tell it about semantics. Powerset, by contrast, relies on smart grammar interpretation, which is very different.

Whether Textdigger can pull this off is another question.

It is in a closed testing period. You need an invite. Chief executive Tim Musgrove says it gets better the more people use it. It’s not ready for the masses.

We played with Digger. Our conclusion: We think this is useful tool, and we’d be surprised if Google didn’t implement something like this soon — especially if Digger gets any traction. It should be easy to do.

We should note, with Digger, you can choose to refine the word meaning for only yourself, or for the community at large. And there are shortcomings. Digger dissects meanings of individual words only, so it can’t assess the meaning of two or three words together, like Powerset is trying to do. The other shortcoming is that depends on you logging on at the site, to personalize results for you. It will have a hard time opening up to non-registered access.

TextDigger has received $1.5 million, led by CNET, where Musgrove was a researcher.

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hakialogo.bmpMeanwhile, Hakia has quietly launched.

Check out what it is doing with searches for people, like for Madonna. It categorizes results into news, music profile, biography and more, rejecting the repetitive results that you get at Google. Similarly, look results for chocolate, India, The Beatles or Red Sox. It’s too early to tell what exactly Hakia is doing, as we’ve yet to talk with them. But it’s essentially a hybrid of Google and Wikipedia — a more aggressive push toward the categorization strategy that Ask has been heading toward (see the right hand side of this search for chocolate, for example).

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