At the Atlanta Semantic Web Meetup tonight, Vishy Dasari gave us a quick description and demo of a new search engine called Semantifi. They purportedly are a search engine for the deep web, meaning the web that is not indexed by traditional search engines because the content is dynamic. They are just in the very early stages, but have opened the site for people to play with and add data to via “Apps.” These apps are sort of like agents that respond to queries, returning results to some marshal process that decides which App will get the right to answer. Results are ranked by some method I wasn’t able to ascertain, but it reminded me of how Amy Iris works. These apps form the backbone of the Semantifi system, it seems, and they are crowdsourcing their creation. You can create a very simple app to return answers on your own data set in a few short minutes.
Perhaps more interesting is that they use a natural language interface in addition to the standard query sort of interface we’re all used to. Given the small amount of data currently available, I couldn’t really determine just how well this interface performs. It is based on a cognitive theory by John Hawks (sp?) that apparently states we think in terms of patterns. That’s very general and I haven’t been able to chase down that reference — and I forgot to ask Vishy for more info at the meetup. If someone can clear that up for me, I’d be grateful. The only seemingly relevant John Hawks I could find is a paleoanthropologist, so not sure. Anyhow, these patterns are what Vishy says the system uses to interpret natural language input. That may be a grandiose way of saying n-gram matching.
While Wolfram|Alpha is a computational knowledge engine™, Semantifi does not make that claim. Apps may compute certain things like mortgage values, but it’s not a general purpose calculator. However, Semantifi is looking at bringing in unstructured data from blogs and the like, that W|A ignores. It remains to be seen what that will look like, though. Also, users can contribute to Semantifi while W|A is a black box. In any case, they are making interesting claims and I look forward to seeing how they play out with more data.
Note: All of my observations are based on notes and memories of tonight’s presentation, so if I made any mistakes please post corrections in the comments or email me.