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Ben Franklin Web Portal Brings the Man to the Masses


Driven by search-engine technology, site highlights three centuries of revolutionary influence.

January 9, 2006, For the 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth, a new Web portal ( is offering a comprehensive, searchable resource of the iconic statesman’s writings and quotations, along with a targeted search engine and tools for teachers.

Franklin was an important figure not only for U.S. history, but also for science and engineering. From studies of electricity, weather and ocean currents to his development of the lightning rod, double spectacles (bifocals) and the odometer, many of his innovations and discoveries were groundbreaking.

A vast wealth of material on Ben Franklin exists on the Internet, but standard searches do not differentiate between references to the man and references to countless objects and entities named in his honor. The curators of the Web portal have simplified such searches by managing the results to weed out distracting references -- from high schools to retailers -- unrelated to Franklin himself.

The curators also manage additional engines that allow users to search specifically under proverbs, writings and educational resources -- and by adding the words “images” or “pictures” to a search, users can access related visuals.

Developed and curated by Vivísimo, Inc. of Pittsburgh, Pa., the portal uses the company’s unique clustering search engine. Known publicly by the name, the engine filters and indexes results to create clusters that are easier to navigate than numerous pages of “hits.” The method is applicable to any set of electronic documents, and developers have applied it to languages ranging from Arabic to Korean.

Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Raul Valdes-Perez and graduate students Chris Palmer and Jerome Pesenti created the underlying clustering algorithms in the early 1990s -- with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Pennsylvania’s appropriately named Ben Franklin economic development initiative. The researchers founded Vivísimo and improved upon the technology, furthering the engine’s development with NSF Small Business Innovation Research grants.

Since its development, various users have applied the software to both institutional and World-Wide Web searches. Most recently, the U.S. General Services Administration chose Vivísimo’s platform for a re-launch of the search, the U.S. government’s official search gateway for government web pages.

NSF’s monetary support for Valdes-Perez’s work began more than a decade ago with funding from the Directorate for Computer & Information Science & Engineering and continued with grants from the Directorate for Engineering.

In addition to NSF support, the portal effort has been aided by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Libraries, the Carnegie Science Center and Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center.


Related Websites
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The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.47 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 40,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. The NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.


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