Online Semantic Search Tool WebSifter Patented

Posted: January 11, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Dave Andrews

After recognizing a number of limitations of current search engines, Larry Kerschberg, professor and director of the E-Center for E-Business at Mason, began developing a more efficient way of posing online queries.

What he built came to be known as WebSifter, a search and ranking system that provides users with a more meaningful, detailed and precise web search.

The WebSifter system, which was recently patented, allows individuals or companies to create a taxonomy tree of terms relevant to their search. Next, it generates the search requests through engines such as Yahoo, Google, Excite and AltaVista. When the search is complete, WebSifter ranks the cumulative results according to the patented ranking system and presents them to the user.

Kerschberg says by weighing each term of the taxonomy tree according to its importance, WebSifter will produce far more precise results than a search conducted directly through a single search engine. By consulting multiple search engines, WebSifter gets more coverage of the World Wide Web.

“We had engineers from AOL come to our lab for a demonstration,” says Kerschberg. “One of them had spent an entire afternoon looking for a special piece of hardware for his computer, with no luck. He posed the query to WebSifter, which found two links that were deemed relevant, and one of those links was to the product the engineer was looking for.”

After the results are presented, the user can provide feedback as to how relevant the results were. Over time, the results become increasingly precise as WebSifter adapts to the user’s preferences.

The basic idea was initially proposed in 1997 by Anthony Scime, Kerschberg’s doctoral student at the time, as the topic of his doctoral dissertation. Kerschberg continued working on the idea during the 2000-01 school year with Wooju Kim, a professor visiting from Chungbuk University in Korea. When the project was finished in 2001, Kerschberg, Kim and Scime applied for the patent and received it three years later.

Kerschberg says the WebSifter has yet to be developed into a product, but he and the other inventors are interested in licensing the technology for development.

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