caption for the picture: The KartOO interface presents results in a visual display. Rendered using Flash, the thematic map or thematic "card" shows the most important hits and the relationships among the "hits". When the user clicks on an object in the display, the user's browser displays the referenced Web page or site.
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Technology from Harrod' Creek
The World Cup is over. News flash: the French write software better than they play football.
In July 2002, two search-and-retrieval companies in Paris announced that they were integrating their respective search-and-retrieval technologies for one of France's leading research facilities. The companies are Pertimm, S.A. and KartOO, S.A. Pertimm offers an innovative search engine that combines a blistering fast retrieval system (patented, of course) with a next-generation architecture. KartOO uses a graphical map of search results that communicates relevance and relationships in an intuitive visual display
Pertimm (two "m's" and KartOO (two "oh's") approach search-and-retrieval from different and complementary ways. Pertimm was originally named Systal, but says Jean Poncet, managing director, "We changed it to Pertimm to indicate that our search-and-retrieval engine delivers pertinent and immediate results."
Laurent Baleydier founded KartOO in 2001 after several years of research and development. Mr. Baleydier saw the need for a metasearch engine that would help Internet users "tune their information searching more precisely," he says. "The problem was the interface with long lists of sites. To make the list manageable, the user had to know Boolean. Users don't want to learn Boolean logic. Users want answers." KartOO is, in its demonstration service, a metasearch tool. Like other metasearch engines, a site with highly relevant content but a modest number of pages can be difficult to identify when sites with more content dominate the results list. Pertimm's technology provides pinpoint precision and a taxonomy for any indexed content that makes it easy to identify useful resources regardless of the number of pages in a content object (a fancy way to say document or Web page).
The Pertimm search-and-retrieval engine uses a new linguistics-based search-and-retrieval engine. Pertimm holds patents on its approaches to indexing, updating its index in real time, and determining the relevance of particular content objects to a user's query. The technology makes use of what Pertimm's engineers call "rayon" or beams. The idea is that precise content is assembled and displayed in response to a query. The "rayon" connotes illumination of a subject and its related concepts as well as the speed of Pertimm moteur.
Says Mr. Poncet, "We focus on spidering, real-time updates to the indexing, and a robust API [application programming interface]. KartOO has developed a very interesting and powerful interface plus metasearch code. Both of our companies support multiple languages. This is not so important in the U.S., but it is very important in other countries. So making our algorithms and technologies in the KartOO interface is going to be quite remarkable."
Both companies' technologies support distributed networks, personal computers, handheld computers, digital TVs, game consoles and mobile phones. Both companies say that prospects for search-and-retrieval software are wary because, says Jean Poncet, "There have been too many broken systems as a result of good marketing and bad software. Customers want access to content wherever it resides, and they don't want to learn software. They want to get answers."
Search-and-retrieval is a grab bag of technologies, products, and promises. Anyone with Linux has grep; anyone with Windows has Find. What more is needed?
There are more than 1,500 Web indexes and dozens of Autonomy-Verity-DT Search products offering search-and-retrieval, fast-appearing taxonomy specialists like Stratify, and clever interface widgets from university laboratories (for example, Anton Leuski's Lighthouse) and Plumb Design.
Looming over the search-and-retrieval landscape are Google and Overture. Scrunched into enterprise software are search-and-retrieval functions from SAP, WebSphere, and J.D. Edwards. Databases like Oracle include search-and-retrieval in two or more manifestations. Even business intelligence and data mining companies such as Cognos and SAS Institute have jumped on the search-and-retrieval bandwagon.
The painful fact is that despite the ubiquity of search-and-retrieval-arguably the second most-used network service after electronic mail- is search-and-retrieval. Mr. Baleydier says, "Since the beginning of online search, the user interfaces has been designed by data processing specialists for data processing specialists. Next generation tools must be more friendly, intuitive, and visual. Today Google and most other engines still present results in long, linear lists. Imagine, you are moving to a different city and the estate agent gave you only the index of the streets. No map. No way to orient yourself. For this reason KartOO draws what I call thematic maps or thematic cards. At a glance, the user can see and focus more easily the interesting sites to save time in your search and give you a better search experience."
KartOO's interface uses Macromedia's Flash technology to display search results. The KartOO demonstration site allows the user to enter a query. Results come from user-selectable search engines including Google, Dmoz, Nomade, and Voila (pour les geeks, Voila's description not the author's), and 11 others.
KartOO has optimized Flash so that the visual display (see accompanying illustration) renders reasonably quickly even on a dial-up connection. WebBrain.com and Miner3D.com use Java or Microsoft technologies to render their visual displays. KartOO's use of Flash may be a first.
What KartOO does is display search results visually. A display with spheres, lines, and labels appears in the "zoom mode."
The results are not shown in text as they are on Google or Free.fr The results appear as yellow and gold balls. Larger spheres indicate more relevant sites. Smaller objects represent less relevant content.
Lines connect the spheres to show the relationship between and among sites. This feature is more useful when KartOO displays documents on an organization's Intranet. When the user hovers the cursor over a sphere, a description of the site or an abstract of the content object appears. Most users of search engines look at the first page or two of results. With KartOO, the user can see more results and notice sites or documents that might be ignored using more traditional search interfaces. A click on a sphere opens that site or document in a browser window.
When the results appear, KartOO displays a list of related terms. In the Pertimm implementation, the KartOO interface uses the taxonomy and related term list that gives the user snapshots of the content available. The user can add one of these terms to the query by clicking the plus sign. A click on the minus sign NOTs out or subtracts the concept from the query. The result is an easy-to-understand implementation of traditional Boolean logic without requiring the user to key or cut-and-paste terms into the query box.
KartOO's Advanced Search provides controls for more formal searches on title, site, url, hyperlink or other parameters. For the natural language aficionado, KartOO parses queries presented as questions when a question mark(?) ends the string.
Says Pertimm's founder, Jean Poncet: "We received a telephone call one day inviting us to meet with the inventor of KartOO. When we saw their approach to interface and they saw our search-and-retrieval technology, it was obvious that our client had a very good idea."
In the joint implementation for the French government's research community, KartOO allows the user to enter a query. Then KartOO passes the query to the Pertimm engine. The Pertimm technology spiders Intranet, Internet, and other types of content identified by the client. The results are displayed using the KartOO rendering engine.
KartOO's display background, the colour of the spheres and lines can be changed. A scientist, for example, can switch to see the results in a list, or a more traditional Alta Vista type of search engine interface (called HTML version), or the visual "zoom mode."
When asked about the new relationship, Mr. Poncet says, "Yes, everything is working very well. We have together a very happy client. The engineers are able to enter a query, look at the visual display. Modify the search and explore the results very rapidly. What we have been told is that the engineers and scientists have forgotten about the interface and the Pertimm algorithms. The end users just access the content."
Pertimm uses software that perform as watchers. When new content appears in a Web site or on a specific folder of an employee's hard drive, the watcher tells the Pertimm engine to retrieves the object. Pertimm's high-speed indexer extracts terms and concepts including such phrases as Buckingham Palace and updates the index repository in real time. Seconds after a new document or Web page is recognized, Pertimm indexes it and makes it available to the user. The delay of weeks or months associated with some of the older, less speedy indexing technologies does not trouble Pertimm users," says Mr. Poncet.
Pertimm works in a distributed environment, can handle more than 200 different file types, and provides a way to access such complex content repositories as Microsoft Outlook mail files or Groove discussions. A large organization can have one or more Pertimm engines. A user can query all the indexes as one virtual repository. "Think Web services and Java spaces," says Mr. Poncet. Pertimm's modules can reside on a single machine, multiple machines, or on multiple machines in different locations.
KartOO and Pertimm are quick to point out that each of their software products is available separately. However, both companies agree that the KartOO interface and the Pertimm technology make marketing easier. A link to the new service will be available, "probably later this year," says Mr. Baleydier.
The type of business partnership that Pertimm and KartOO have announced points up the need for solutions, not standalone software. Many organizations want to have a search solution that can handle multiple document and content types delivered with an interface that requires little or no user training and support.
The challenges ahead for Pertimm and KartOO are daunting. Search-and-retrieval has few profitable companies with "must have" products. Client-suggested partnerships can be fragile. Plumbdesign or Anarcti.ca, among others, can introduce new interfaces and leapfrog over the Pertimm and KartOO technologies.
Nevertheless, the French have never doubted their abilities. For centuries, the French have surprised their friends and foes alike. Remember the aqualung, Braille, the bicycle, the crepe, the guillotine. Maybe Pertimm-KartOO?
Companies mentioned in this column
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