The University of Twente spin-off Q-Able receives a Valorization Grant Phase 1 from the Dutch Technology Foundation STW to further develop and market their OneBox search technology.
When it comes to web applications, users love the “single text box” interface because it is extremely easy to use. However, much information on the web is stored in structured databases and can only be accessed by filling out a web form with multiple input fields. Examples include planning a trip, booking a hotel room, looking for a second-hand car, etc.
The approach of web search engines – to crawl sites and make a central index of the pages – does not suffice in many cases. First, some sites are hard to crawl because the pages can only be accessed via the web form. Second, some sites provide information that changes quickly, like available hotel rooms, and crawled pages would be almost immediately outdated. Third, some sites provide information that is generated dynamically, like planning a trip from one address to another on a certain date, and it is impossible to crawl all combinations of addresses and dates. Finally, a simple text index that search engines provide does not easily allow structured queries on arbitrary fields. In all these cases, the sites that provide such information can be found using a search engine like Google, but the information itself can only be retrieved after filling in a web form. Filling in one or more web forms with many fields can be a tedious job.
Q-Able replaces a site's web forms by OneBox, a simple text field, giving complex sites the look and feel of Google: a single field for asking questions and performing simple transactions. OneBox allows users to plan a trip by typing for instance “Next Wednesday from Enschede to Amsterdam arriving at 9am”, or to search for second-hand cars by typing “Ford C-max 4-doors less than 200,000 kilometres from before 2008”. OneBox can be configured to operate on any web site that provides complex web forms. Furthermore, OneBox can be configured to operate on multiple web sites using a single simple text field. This way, to search for instance for a second-hand car, users enter a single query, and search multiple second-hand car sites with a single click. OneBox only replaces the user interface of a web database: It does not copy, crawl or otherwise index the data itself.
OneBox, is the result of the Ph.D. research project done by Kien Tjin-Kam-Jet at the University of Twente. His research identified several successful novel approaches to query understanding by combining rule-based approaches with probabilistic approaches that rank query interpretations. Furthermore, the research resulted in an efficient implementation of OneBox, that needs only a fraction of a second to interpret queries even in complex configurations for accessing multiple web databases. Treinplanner.info, Q-Able's first public demonstration of OneBox, demonstrates natural search for the Dutch Railways (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) travel planner, and was well-received in user questionnaires, on Twitter, and on the Dutch national public radio and television. Q-Able will use the STW valorisation grant to investigate the technical and and commercial feasibility of OneBox.