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Let Watson Find It for You
by
Posted On May 1, 2005
Computer users have lots of options available to them for search—Web search engines, professional online search services, desktop search tools (all the rage recently), and enterprise search applications. However, all of these rely on the user initiating a search and knowing basically where and how to look for information. And most of these search solutions rely on a few key words to initiate the search. Now, a new "push" product can operate in the background and present potentially useful information as needed. Watson is a desktop application from Intellext that automatically reads and understands the context of what you're working on; it uses that knowledge to proactively find and deliver information to you as it's needed, even if you didn't know you needed it or where to find it.

The Chicago-based start-up company Intellext (http://www.intellext.com) calls itself the "Intelligence in Context" software company. Intellext emerged from its research and development stage in late January, changed its name to Intellext from Open Road Technologies, hired technology entrepreneur Al Wasserberger as its CEO, and is now commercially marketing and shipping its software solutions. Watson is the result of research conducted by Intellext co-founders Jay Budzik and Kristian Hammond at Northwestern University. Budzik, now the company's CTO, said that Watson "removes the burden of search from the shoulders of computer users." 

Watson can bring relevant data into a user's work flow from multiple online and offline information sources, including: 

  •  Search engines 
  •  Desktop search applications 
  •  Online content providers 
  •  Subscription services 
  •  Corporate databases 
  •  Enterprise extranets and intranet portals 
  •  Enterprise search systems 
  •  Knowledge management solutions

Watson works with Windows-based PCs but not Macintoshes. At this point, it integrates with mostly Microsoft applications, including Word, PowerPoint, Outlook (when Word is the e-mail editor), and Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher. The Watson light bulb icon displays on the menu bar of each application. The company plans to add support soon for the Mozilla Firefox browser and for Adobe's PDF reader. It also works with Google Desktop Search and with X1 Desktop Search 4.09 (support for X1 version 5 is coming soon). 

The software works automatically in the background; it turns the gray light bulb icon yellow when information is available. Users can also request updated results and can even highlight words, phrases, or large sections of a page to provide context for Watson. Users are also able to  add search terms to refine results. According to a FAQ on the Intellext site, Watson uses a combination of application-level semantics and statistical language analysis techniques to arrive at a characterization of the user's document or page. As a user works with a document, Watson pays attention to the section a user is editing and tailors its results to that section. Watson also understands how to separate the "junk" surrounding an article on a Web page from the article itself.

The Watson client for Windows is available in several options. The Watson Standard edition ($99.95 for a 1-year subscription) is for individual business users and provides content from a standard list of information sources, including search engines like Yahoo! and subscription services like HighBeam Research. Watson Professional is available for small and medium-sized businesses with up to 500 users. Watson Professional users can access corporate data sources such as corporate portal intranets and extranets, knowledge management solutions, and corporate databases; the software can easily be configured to search new information sources. 

Federated search vendor MuseGlobal (http://www.museglobal.com) has incorporated Intellext's Watson technology as an optional add-on component to its MuseSearch products and services. Kate Noerr, CEO of MuseGlobal, said: "Watson as a front-end application driving the MuseServer powered back-end makes a very powerful information discovery system. As we expand into new markets such as legal and financial services, we expect this new functionality to make us an even more compelling choice."

Intellext is also offering the MuseSearch MuseServer as part of the Watson solution for large organizations—aka the Watson Enterprise Edition. Users of this software are able to access the 3,000-plus preconfigured information sources available through the MuseServer and have access to the software management and reporting tools in the Watson Enterprise Server. 

At the recent Software 2005 conference, Intellext introduced its latest commercial solution, the ActiveContext iSuite. This product suite, which is based on the Watson technology, offers a set of tools for publishers and Web content providers to offer contextual search features to their users. It will be available at the end of June in three modules: 

  •  ActiveContext Client—client software (a menu bar button or toolbar) that can be distributed to users to provide contextual information from a content provider 
  •  ActiveContext Server—operates as a Web service to suggest relevant content (from internal or external sources) to site visitors 
  •  ActiveContext Component—a component that lets content providers build their own applications 

I've just started to test Watson Standard, but I am already pleasantly surprised by some of the results. I can see, however, that I could benefit from the more configurable Professional edition for source options. 

You can try Watson free for 30 days. Download it from the company site and then just say to the handy, unobtrusive assistant: "Watson, come here. I need you."


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.


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