Israeli computer science students offer BookIt, a tool that does all your research for you, presenting the results in book form that you can download.
By David Shamah
Once upon a time, you went to the library to find out stuff you didn’t know. Then came the Internet – and research that once took days and weeks now could be done in a matter of minutes. And now, thanks to a group of enterprising computer students at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, your computer will soon be able to put together an online book for you.
"The Internet has made research work much less intensive, because you have the world’s knowledge at your fingertips," says Michal Nir, one of eight Technion computer science students who came up with the BookIt web application working under the supervision of Associate Prof. Yossi Gil. "We just take it to the next logical step, automating the search process and presenting you with the results."
Nir, along with Sa’ar Gross, Binyamin Kemper, Inbal Serchuk, Itamar Azulay, Alon Morgenstein, Ro’i Migdal and Vladimr Rodenko, developed the application using an algorithm they were given at the beginning of the fall 2010 semester. It was sort of a contest, Nir says. "They gave us the algorithm and told us to ‘build something,’ as if we were working at a startup. It was important for us to present an attractive product, with a catchy name, whose design was eye-pleasing, user-friendly, and that met an actual need."
The BookIt app certainly meets those criteria. Users enter terms and concepts at the BookIt site and the application does its magic, scouring the Internet for information about the subject, and assembling the data in a readable and organized book form, complete with pictures. BookIt saves the book in PDF format, and users can download it to a computer, iPhone, iPad or any other device that reads PDF files.
BookIt sounds very artificial intelligence-like, and it is, to an extent – the algorithm takes a term and searches the Internet for it and related terms. However, says Nir, it is not going to replace authors or journalists anytime soon. "Book-It doesn’t do anything you couldn’t do yourself, but it does it faster."
Since it was a student project, Nir says that the group spent as little money as possible in developing BookIt. Even so, the application has been far more effective than the group expected, and Nir has no doubt it will be developed further.
"We see a great potential in BookIt," she says. "Right now, because it’s in the test phase, we have been parsing only Wikipedia for information, but this would be a great application for any site – universities, news and information, etc." It will take some investment money to get the application ready for that kind of activity, says Nir. But when the full application is available, "I really think this is going to make life easier for many people."