PORTLAND, Ore. Serious research has a new tool called illumin8 that harnesses semantic searches, which understand the meaning of queries. Unlike the free Google search engine, which merely matches the words in a query against Web pages containing those keywords, Elsevier's illumin8 uses a thesaurus with a half-million pre-defined technology terms to associate semantics--the meaning of the phrases--with queries.
"We think that there can be improvements on keyword searches and that's one of the reasons we've introduced illumin8to help find the meaning in information," said Joe Buzzanga, illumin8's product manager at Elsevier. "It's really a research and discovery tool, powered by natural language processing technology. We have tuned it for our core users, who are R&D professionals in corporations."
The new search engine is not free, but it does run on a Web page, permitting the user to enter queries very similar to those they are used to doing at Google, Yahoo or any of the keyword search engines. The difference comes when you press the search button. Rather than getting an immediate list of results ranked by popularity, illumin8 takes a few seconds to determine the meaning of your query by comparing it against its precompiled semantic database. Elsevier's crawler algorithm is constantly searching six billion Web pages, three million science and technical journal articles, 33 million reported scientific results, and 21 million patents, which it compiles into 1.1 billion semantic extractions of related concepts.
After determining the semantic extractions relevant to your query, it then presents a summary of its results organized in separate panes of a full-screen window, sorted by organization, approach, benefit, author/inventor, company and product. Each of these panes shows a list of items, each displaying how many individual records are associated with each item.
Moving a cursor over an item pops up a window describing it, ranking its relevance, categorizing its type, and spelling out any acronyms or aliases. Clicking on the item finally brings up a list of records each of which is summarized and has a direct link to view it in a separate window.
Searches take about 15 seconds to locate results in the semantic database and up to a minute to organize them on a summary page, depending on how many results you get; Elsevier says it is working on an upgrade to speed up the process. The summary panes can be restricted to only Web results, only journal results or only patent results, or some combination. For example, typing in "semiconductor R&D" returns 5284 results organized into panes for organizations, approaches, people, products and related results3869 of which come from the Web.
Organizations for this query, listed in ascending order, included IBM, Intel, Infineon, STMicroelectronics, Samsung, Motorola, AMD, Toshiba, Texas Instruments.
In order to use illumin8 you need a subscription, which is priced individually for each organization. To test a free semantic search engine, albeit one that does not provide summary pages and does not access a large a database like illumin8, try Hakia (searches Web only) or Powerset (searches Wikipedia only).