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A Spring of Questions and Answers

With the arrival of spring, it seems like even search engines specialized in Q&A are “coming out of hibernation” . These engines give responses to users’ questions (differing from normal search engines which provide a list of web pages in response to a search). First Wolfram Alpha and now, even True Knowledge (in development for many years) are both trying to find their place in the sun.


For the average Internet user, a search engine based on Q&A seems like something magical because, theoretically, one can ask a question and quickly receive a precise response. In reality, however, a system which actually functions in this manner would be impossible. To be able to set up such a service would require difficult and complex problem-solving, which I doubt will ever possible to do (and it really irks me to see that for years, unscrupulous people and companies continue to say just the opposite, disillusioning the user and building up expectations which will never be able to  be satisfied).


What is presently possible is the implementation of a similar search engine which is able to answer, with a good precision rate, a significant number of frequently asked questions which are common to the Web world. It will require an enormous amount of work (and lots of money), top-notch technology (semantic, of course!) and very strong motivation (because of its complex nature and fuzzy problems), but it can be done.


It won’t be a “Google killer”, as many would hope – maybe it won’t even be a competitor- but it will be a great complement for specific fields and explicit needs (those which are common). Developing a system of this kind, which will be useful in everyday applications, requires great investments. In a period such as the present, I don’t know if it can be that easy to find the necessary resources (without substantial investments, there is a great risk that the system will have only a marginal utility because it would be able to respond to only a small fraction of the FAQ).


We’ll just have to wait and see what happens in the next few months: on paper, it looks like it will be an interesting period for these types of services.





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