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Thursday, July 12, 2007


The Problems

Today I just wanted to take a brief look at some of the problems I'm finding myself tackling with the deep web commons question. There's two main ones, from quite different perspectives, but for both I can briefly describe my current thoughts.

Flattening a web form

The first problem is that of how to represent a web form in such a way that it can be used as an input to an automated system that can evaluate it. Ideally, in machine learning, you have a set of attributes that form a vector, and then you use that as the input to your algorithm. Like in tic-tac-toe, you might represent a cross by -1, a naught by +1, and an empty space by 0, and then the game can be represented by 9 of these 'attributes'.

But for web forms it's not that simple. There are a few parts of the web form that are different from each other. I've identified these potentially useful places, of which there may be one or more, and all of which take the form of text. These are just the ones I needed when considering Advanced Google Code Search:
Conditions can then be made up of these. For example, when (as in the case of Advanced Google Code Search) you see a select option like "GNU General Public License", it's an indication you've found an interesting web form.

But as far as I can tell, text makes for bad attributes. Numerical is much better. As far as I can tell. But I'll talk about that more when I talk about ripple down rules.

A handful of needles in a field of haystacks

The other problem is more about what we're actually looking for. We're talking about web forms that hide commons content. Well the interesting this about that is that there's bound to be very few, compared to the rest of the web forms on the Internet. Heck, they're not even all for searching. Some are for buying things. Some are polls.

And so, if, as seems likely, most web forms are uninteresting, if we need to enlist an expert to train the system, the expert is going to be spending most of the time looking at uninteresting examples.

This makes it harder, but in an interesting way: if I can find some way to have the system, while it's in training, find the most likely candidate of all the possible candidates, it could solve this problem. And that would be pretty neat.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Current Focus - The Deep Web

My previous two posts, last week, talked about my research, but didn't really talk about what I'm researching at the moment.

The deep web

Okay, so here's what I'm looking at. It's called the deep web, and it refers to the web documents that the search engines don't know about.

Sort of.

Actually, when the search engines find these documents, they really become part of the surface web, in a process sometimes called surfacing. Now I'm sure you're wondering: what kinds of documents can't search engines find, if they're the kind of documents anyone can browse to? The simple answer is: documents that no other pages link to. But a more realistic answer is that it's documents hidden in databases, that you have to do searches on the site to find. They'll generally have URLs, and you can link to them, but unless someone does, they're part of the deep web.

Now this is just a definition, and not particularly interesting in itself. But it turns out (though I haven't counted, myself) that there are more accessible web pages in the deep web than in the surface web. And they're not beyond the reach of automated systems - the systems just have to know the right questions to ask and the right place to ask the question. Here's an example, close to Unlocking IP. Go to AEShareNet and do a search, for anything you like. The results you get (when you navigate to them) are documents that you can only find by searching like this, or if someone else has done this, found the URL, and then linked to it on the web.

Extracting (surfacing) deep web commons

So when you consider how many publicly licensed documents may be in the deep web, it becomes an interesting problem from both the law / Unlocking IP perspective and from the computer science, which I'm really happy about. What I'm saying here is that I'm investigating ways of making automated systems to discover deep web commons. And it's not simple.

Lastly, some examples

I wanted to close with two web sites that I think are interesting in the context of deep web commons. First, there's SourceForge, which I'm sure the Planet Linux Australia readers will know (for the rest: it's a repository for open source software). It's interesting, because their advanced search feature really doesn't give many clues about it being a search for open source software.

And then there's the Advanced Google Code Search, which searches for publicly available source code, which generally means free or open source, but sometimes just means available, because Google can't figure out what the licence is. This is also interesting because it's not what you'd normally think of as deep web content. After all Google's just searching for stuff it found on the web, right? Actually, I class this as deep web content because Google is (mostly) looking inside zip files to find the source code, so it's not stuff you can find in regular search.

This search, as compared to SourceForge advanced search, makes it very clear you're searching for things that are likely to be commons content. In fact, I came up with 6 strong pieces of evidence that I can say leads me to believe Google Code Search is commons related.

(As a challenge to my readers, see how many pieces of evidence you can find that the Advanced Google Code Search is a search for commons (just from the search itself), and post a comment).

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