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Microsoft Research Tests Biographical Search

If you have endless curiosity, particularly about people, and plenty of time to burn, Microsoft's got a research tool for you.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Research Asia (MSRA) has a research tool that provides what might be thought of as a biographical search engine, complete with automatically generated relationship charts.

Dubbed EntityCube, the research prototype is directed toward finding all the Web pages regarding an "entity," whether that be a person, a product, or a business.

EntityCube is the English translation of the Chinese term "Renlifang," according to a readme file on the EntityCube site. Renlifang was the original Chinese language project. EntityCube is the English language version.

Renlifang has become popular in China, with millions of page views on the busiest days.

"From more than one billion Chinese web pages, Renlifang employs automatic algorithms to extract entity information and detects relationships, covering a spectrum of everyday individuals and well-known people, locations, or organizations," the readme said.

"In Renlifang, users can submit a query about any person, location, and organization and then explore their relationships."

Now, MSR has made an early version of the English language prototype available for English speaking users to try out. Both Renlifang and EntityCube are only research projects at this point, the readme cautions.

A company spokesperson declined to provide more details, including whether either might appear in a Microsoft product such as the Bing search engine at some point.

"EntityCube is an entity search and summarization system that efficiently generates summaries of Web entities from billions of crawled Web pages. The summarized information is used to build an object-level search engine about people, locations, and organizations and allows for exploration of their relationships," the readme file said.

When a user searches on, for example, Bill Gates, EntityCube generates a biography page and a social network graph for that person (an entity relationship diagram), as well as a "shortest relationship path between two individuals, and all titles of a person found on the Web."

Microsoft's caution that both Renlifang and EntityCube are prototypes appears to be apt. Users who are not famous may not see themselves or their acquaintances in search results.

Microsoft's international research organization started up in 1991. Some of its most recent research projects have included the Surface touch-screen table computer and a long-term experiment in which one senior researcher is in the process of recording every second of his life for later indexing and searching.