Sunday, December 16, 2007

Jimmy Wales early Christmas present: A "Search Wikia" Alpha Launch?

Search Wikia, The open-source, community search engine effort backed by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales could go live as an early test version as soon as next week. according to New Scientist.

Jeremie Miller, the project's technology chief, hopes an "alpha" version of the engine will be running by Christmas. As well as search, it will offer "wiki-style tools to improve search and basic social networking"

"Unlike Google, Search Wikia will not share search data with advertisers, nor invade privacy by storing users' search terms...The effort's architecture is similar in fashion to the SETI@Home project...500 volunteers are running web-crawlers to compile Search Wikia's web index, which so far totals 100 million pages"

Wikia's Search is smartly boot-strapping off of the established open source distributed web crawler software/project that it purchased in July, Grub. An introduction from Grub's site:

Search is part of the fundamental infrastructure of the Internet. And, it is currently broken.

Why is it broken? It is broken for the same reason that proprietary software is always broken: lack of freedom, lack of community, lack of accountability, lack of transparency. Here, we will start to change all that.

Grub started back in 2000 with a simple concept of distributing part of the search process pipeline: crawling. In a way, we were a bit ahead of our time, but our intention then was what it is now. We want to help fix search.

Now, with the help of Wikia, community members, contibuters, and Open Source developers our time has come again. Come be part of something greater. Come help us change the World.

This is a very interesting project with altruistic motives. Google and Yahoo do good job at search, but as pointed out here previously, having an open source, and non-commercial democratic search index/application would be a welcome addition to the proprietary ones offered by the web giants. Time will tell if the Search Wikia can deliver the same kind of quality, relevant results.

digg the New Scientist story here

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Google's "My Location" Makes your Phone a Real Beacon...GPS Not Required

Google's "Maps for Mobile" makes it so you can automatically send your phone's location to their maps application without GPS!

After this light-weight maps application is downloaded and installed on your phone, you just type the "0" key to activate the new, "My Location" Beta service.

It doesn't work on all phones, but if yours is one that does, It will then get your phones location data from the cell tower serving it, and it will plot your location on the map (within 1000 meters or better). You can then search for a destination, get directions, and more.

The MIT Technology Review has an excellent article about the underlying technology, and other developments in this kind of non-GPS related mobile tracking. Interestingly, Google does use some GPS data on the back-end of this "My Location" application:

"Google also uses data from cell phones in the area that do have GPS to help estimate the locations of the devices without it. In this way, Google adds geographic information to the cell-phone tower's identifiers that the company stores in a database."

So instead of "triangulating" your location by pinpointing you relative to two other towers, Google is just using the single tower that is serving your phone, and then using other people's Maps enabled GPS devices to help fill in the gaps! It sounds like quite an amazing mashup & cross reference of geo-location data. Integrating all of it with the maps application making it work with relative accuracy is a remarkable feat.

Not surprisingly for Google, they expect the service to improve and more "intelligent" with time.

"As the database grows, says Lee, the service will become more accurate. It will never be as accurate as GPS, but he expects that it could eventually find a person within a couple hundred meters"

Here's a wild thought: Since Google is the Authority on "Search" (and privacy issues notwithstanding) wouldn't it be something if you could search for another person by dialing their cell phone number and then find their current location on the map ?!?!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Cellphones as an Airline Boarding Pass

Continental Airlines & Transportation Security Administration are doing a 3 month test in Houston that lets passengers board the plane with their cell phones or PDAs!

The way it works is that a bar code image is sent to the device (presumably from the airlines website or from a check-in kiosk at the airport) The image that's displayed on the device gets scanned at the baording gate just as the bar code on a paper pass does.

While the test doesn't allow for multiple passengers to board from one bar code, Continental is working on upgrading their system to allow for that.

While this is the first use of this kind of technology in the US, it's not the first ever implementation. Air Canada has been offering it since September of this year. USA Today reports that other US Airlines such as Delta and US Airways hope to offer this kind of paperless technology in the future too.

read more | digg story