Google buys search tech from Australian university

Google said Tuesday that it has acquired search engine technology from an Australian university that the institution described last year as potentially revolutionary.

Google also hired the Ph.D. student who developed the technology. "Google has purchased the assets of Orion and Ori Allon is now an employee. We're thrilled to have him here," a Google spokesman wrote via e-mail.

The Orion acquisition and Allon's hiring happened "months ago," the spokesman wrote, but news about this issue began to surface in recent days, starting with reports from media outlets in Australia and Israel, the student's native country.

In a press release issued in September, the University of New South Wales in Sydney called Orion a complement for queries run on search engines such as ones from Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.

Orion provides an expanded text excerpt from the list of Web site results, so that the user doesn't have to click over to those pages to see the information relevant to his query, according to the university.

It also displays results which are topically related to the keywords the user entered, even if those keywords aren't found in those related pages "thus offering an expert search without having an expert's knowledge," according to the statement.

The functionality is described as resembling a feature other search engines already offer by suggesting alternative queries to refine search results.

For example, when users run a query on IAC/InterActiveCorp's Ask.com, they get a conventional list of results, but they also receive a list of suggestions for narrowing and expanding the query's thematic scope. They also get a list of keywords that are potentially related to the query.

Meanwhile, Vivisimo's Clusty search engine groups results into thematic clusters, as a way to let users drill down into the results and find the information they are looking for more easily and faster.

Through such features, search engines aim to address the problem of queries that return hundreds of thousands of results, forcing users to wade through many Web pages to find the information they are seeking. Search engine operators recognize that their engines need to move away from the model of providing long lists of search results, and instead aim to provide the specific facts users want.

To different degrees, most major search engines now deliver a digest of information collated from various online sources, particularly for queries involving weather, movies, famous people and geographical locations. There is even a search engine called Answers.com, from Answers Corp., which is built around this query-resolution model.

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