Who is Cyc?

Some search engines vie for fairy dust, others just ante up the goods.

tolkien’s middle earth map

Semantic search engines vie to harness the same fairy dust as did Google–once upon a time. But charismatic, enigmatic, and dismissive geeky upstarts that make billions upon billions of dollars of course earn as many foes as they do dough. My point is that Google’s limelight is still enviable and new search engines like the mysterious Powerset and Hakia are in line.

But, outside the West Coast Search celebrity there are other semantic web forces to be reckoned with that have actually been chipping away at the natural language lexicon for years.

Cyc, “the world’s largest and most complete general knowledge base and commonsense reasoning engine,” is already a working product for corporate and industrial users. I’ve just happened on it and am still trying to digest the literature, but it reminds me of a mini IBM WebFountain, without thecycorp logo supercomputing gusto, but, a powerful engine, nevertheless, that has already “learned” <…..THIS much……>

“What does Cyc know?” According to founder and developer, Doug Lenat, Cyc is able to negotiate this question: “Which American city would be most vulnerable to an anthrax attack during summer?”

Where can I get my very own Cyc?

Like most open source systems designed for industrial applications, Cyc is not nearly as consumer-friendly as a Powerset or Hakia. There is no intuitive, slick little interface. Instead the Cyc main page smacks of the magic language of software developers and Unix users and computer wizards. This is middleware land, Middle Earth, Hobbit-ville. Which makes it all the more enigmatic–I want one.

Semantic Suggestion

New Search “Signage” Fills the Gap Between Now and Later

On 9/28 the Hakia blog post stirred the pot of interesting semantic web issues–my essential takeway: are we at a point in which we are technologically mature enough to handle SW, or are our behaviors and satisfactions attached to technology (current search engines) too rooted to the Now?

Dr. Berkan proposes that SW is not an “if” but a “when” an undeniable force in the evolution of search.

This got me thinking about a couple current search tools that offer a wide range of semantic suggestion, search add-ons that point in the direction of SW:

  • Keyword search suggestion has been offering syntactic, sometimes clumsy semantic suggestions for awhile now–you start typing a word in the search box and a drop down menu offers increasingly granular suggestions with each passing keystroke–can be quite distracting, but seriously indicative of the wild assortment of search terms people use. Maybe we will reminisce about it someday–it’ll become an ancient and primitive syntactic tool–like cave hieroglyphics (though some would likely argue for the sophistication of hieroglyphics).
  • Answer Tips, from Answer.com. I just experienced a webpage enabled with Answer Tips. I can double click on any word on the page and get a spam-free pop-up window from Answer.com that defines, describes, and otherwise offers a range of encyclopedic and dictionary reference–for ANY WORD ON THE PAGE.

Answer Tip window

  • Hakia’s ScoopBar makes it possible to semantically manage data. It involves downloading to the Firefox browser, but promises highlighted webpage text, and the Scoop tool allows users to save results in offline folders accessible later. This is a bit like Google Notebooks, but in an offline format. (I have not used ScoopBar yet, and I’m curious b/c I’ve tried G Notebooks on a couple occasions to see if I could find a more convenient and intuitive way to corral a lot of research data. But the task has just seemed more cumbersome than convenient.) So ScoopBar semantically manages, semantic results.
  • Google Maps allow users to personalize–overlay data in various formats that can be accessed via place markers. Click or mouseover a map placemarker and a pop-up data window opens like a new stratosphere of semantic information relative to a geographic location. G Maps can be made public, usable by the wider web search audience.

One syntactic foot in front of the semantic other.

Higher Order: Google-Facebook Mashup, Anyone?

Social networking sites do provide working models of disparate interconnectedness.

The Atlantic features a smartly titled article, About Facebook–as important as Google at “ordering the web”? hmmmm. Originally launched as a campus tool to connect college students, Facebook has all but busted out for everyone now. I won’t argue its powers to order or the smorgasbord of mini applications being gobbled up for personal pages. But as far as organization of data, doesn’t any type of directory possess some mettle in the information management department?

Maybe my biggest beef with the notion is that Facebook must still inspire membership, must convince me that it’s useful in ways better than any process I have installed in my life right now. Interested parties must “buy into” the business, create a login and profile and actually provide information to order. FB’s new public search remains limited and FB members may block their profiles and information at any time. As far as I can foresee, member privatization undoes the site’s ability to access pockets of data that could potentially make it as big as Google–if it were possible.

I have to say I don’t use Facebook. I don’t use any type of social networking site, per se, and regardless of the millions of users the site may boast, there are still millions that abstain. We do, however, use search engines. So if Facebook is supposedly the next Google, I for one will not be included in any search results, as will not millions of others on a very incomplete (albeit well-ordered) planet of search. Maybe a Google-Facebook mashup?

Powerset Tease


Powerset is playing its launch very safe, measured doses, just a little bit at a time. I just read their schpiel on Power Mouse and Use Cases. Clearly Use Cases capabilities really show the versatility of language nuance that’s being built into their engine.