You can safely say that if you are looking for a piece of information, it's somewhere out there on the World Wide Web. But that doesn't mean you'll be able to find it.
Search engines are, for the most part, primitive tools that often return countless useless hits with information that only peripherally relates to what you're looking for. Even sophisticated search engine users have a hard time finding information in cyberspace.
Victor Anselmo, founder of Alphaspace Research Corp., thinks he's got a solution.
Using semantic analysis techniques, Anselmo and a handful of programmers in a four-room office in Marina del Rey have developed a search technology that guides users through searches.
"It tells you what you don't know about the database, and that takes the guesswork out of the search," says Anselmo, a former senior researcher at Rand Corp., Boeing Computer Services Co.'s artificial intelligence center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The software package, called InSight, uses mathematical models similar to those in "data mining," a technique that examines massive volumes of data to discover patterns and trends. While most data-mining applications deal with numbers, InSight looks at text and images and finds relationships between words based on meaning.
When a user begins a search, InSight sets up a dialogue. For instance, a user would begins a search by typing "health insurance." InSight would find all the stories dealing with the topic and also show all the subtopics related to it and order them by how frequently they occur. Subtopics might include "costs," as well as "policy," "providers," "HMOs" and "rates."
Repeating this process, the user could very quickly narrow the search without having to guess what is in the database.
"It's magical," said C. David Anderson, a lawyer with Tuttle & Taylor who has been using search engines on legal databases since 1967. "It's not the end-all and be-all, but it is clearly one entire step ahead of everything else."
"We are at the right place at the right time," said Anselmo, who employs his son John and his daughter Michelle at Alphaspace.
Anselmo's technology has caught the eye of a number of potential customers and buyers--including the big Web search engine companies, which are using it to enhance their services, and the major legal database firms.
"We have to play our cards right," Anselmo said. Although he is not sure what direction the company will take, he's is certain of one thing: This time next year, Alphaspace will no longer be in a four-room office.