2009年6月30日星期二

Google在非洲尝试短信搜索和交易服务

    国内新闻报道了Google在非洲开通短信搜索、交易服务 , 说起来就是Google开发了一组短信上的搜索和交易服务。可以用短信输入关键词进行搜索,比如本地天气、新闻、体育等。
    这种功能其实不算什么,Google早就有了,关键是后面说的两项功能 TraderSMS Tips
    Trader是一个利用短信平台的集市,供买卖双方交易。输入“买”或“卖”,加上任何类型产品或服务,从二手汽车、手机到农作物、家畜和工作都可以。这就是一个试验版本的短信交易平台,我之前也有过这种想法。因为比起3G或手机上网这些目前只有高端用户才能使用的服务而言,短信的门槛低,涵盖了所有手机用户。比如说,有人发短信说“在北京,找保姆”,而别人发短信“应聘保姆”,这样两人的信息刚好匹配就可以互相联系对方。这个服务的关键技术是能否准确有效的从短信中提取信息并进行匹配,在信息检索领域叫做信息提取(IE)。能否理解好自然语言非常重要,直接影响到服务的效果。但这方面的技术并不成熟,不可能做到非常理想,所以Google选择先在乌干达试验一下效果。一方面不宜拿欧美这么重要的市场做实验,另一方面非洲市场比较低端,手机只有电话和短信的功能,而发达国家中高端手机用户比较多。
    SMS Tips 是短信上的搜索提示,使得短信也可以体验到web中的搜索体验,用户自由输入,系统重构用户的输入,自动识别关键词,返回相关结果。这样就不像传统的短信那样,非得按照指定格式输入。输入内容比较宽松,这会很有有很好的用户体验。
    短信搜索和web搜索比是有一定技术难度的,因为短信字数有限,只能将少量精简的准确内容作为结果返回,不能像在web上返回无数结果,还只是链接。因而,这里搜索的准确性和摘要技术就非常重要,直接影响到服务效果。


以下为Google官方博客的原文,由于blogspot在国内访问受阻,所以在这里贴出来。

Extending Google services in Africa

At
Google we seek to serve a broad base of people — not only those who can
afford to access the Internet from the convenience of their workplace
or with a computer at home. It's important to reach users wherever they
are, with the information they need, in areas with the greatest
information poverty. In many places around the world, people look to
their phones, rather than their computers, to find information they
need in their daily lives. This is especially true in Africa, which has the world’s highest mobile growth rate
and where mobile phone penetration is six times Internet penetration.
One-third of the population owns a mobile phone and many more have
access to one.


Most mobile devices in Africa only have voice and SMS capabilities, and
so we are focusing our technological efforts in that continent on SMS.
Today, we are announcing Google SMS,
a suite of mobile applications which will allow people to access
information, via SMS, on a diverse number of topics including health
and agriculture tips, news, local weather, sports, and more. The suite
also includes Google Trader,
a SMS-based “marketplace” application that helps buyers and sellers
find each other. People can find, "sell" or "buy" any type of product
or service, from used cars and mobile phones to crops, livestock and
jobs.


We are particularly excited about Google SMS Tips,
an SMS-based query-and-answer service that enables a mobile phone user
to have a web search-like experience. You enter a free form text query,
and Google's algorithms restructure the query to identify keywords,
search a database to identify relevant answers, and return the most
relevant answer.

Both Google SMS Tips and Google Trader represent the fruits of unique partnerships among Google, the Grameen Foundation, MTN Uganda and local organizations*. We worked closely together as part of Grameen Foundation's Application Laboratory to understand information needs and gaps, develop locally relevant and actionable content, rapidly test prototypes,
and conduct multi-month pilots with the people who will eventually use
the applications have truly been a global effort, and created with
Ugandans, for Ugandans.


We're just beginning. We can do a lot more to improve search quality
and the breadth — and depth — of content on Google SMS, especially on
Tips and Trader. Google SMS is by no means a finished product, but
that's what's both exciting and challenging about this endeavor.


Meanwhile, if you're curious about what Google is doing in Africa, learn more at the Google Africa Blog.

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