Chinese Search Service Overcomes Input Barrier

HONG KONG (01/31/2000) - An Internet-based search service for Chinese-language news last week overcame an input hurdle for users by introducing technology for translating English-language search terms.

WiseNews, a service run by Hong Kong-based Wisers Information Ltd., will now allow its customers to search for articles from several Chinese-language newspapers using search terms in English. The service become available in a beta test last week.

This will help many Chinese users outside Mainland China get around the difficulty of typing Chinese words on a keyboard, according to Wisers CEO Ringo Lam. For those with good English skills, entering English search words may be easier than entering Chinese characters.

Many Mandarin speakers in the Mainland can use a phonetic romanization system called pinyin, which lets them type in words and select the characters they want with relative ease. However, Cantonese, the most commonly used language in Hong Kong, does not have a standard romanization system. In Taiwan, Mandarin is spoken but a different romanization system is used.

"In the (Mainland), most people who are educated can use pinyin, so they can input the Chinese word very easily," Lam said. "People in Hong Kong or Taiwan can speak Chinese, but it's more difficult to input the words on a keyboard."

Lam said most users of WiseNews to date have used a stylus and writing pad with character recognition to enter terms. Another system designates each key on the Western keyboard with a Chinese character element, to be combined with other elements. Both systems can be laborious, he said.

WiseNews uses Information Processing on Chinese (IPOC) software from Wisers, which translates an English search term into Chinese before carrying out a search for that Chinese term in the news database.

WiseNews, a subscription service, offers a database of clippings from many Hong Kong newspapers as well as media from Mainland China, Taiwan, and Macau, according to the company. The monthly fee is HK$968 (US$124), and a six-month free trial is available. Lam said most of the service's customers today are local companies, but multinational firms are also signing up.

Wisers' IPOC and Electronic News and Media Information System software were developed at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where Wisers was founded in 1998. It recently received more than US$1 million from the Hong Kong Government's Applied Research Fund through Walden International Investment Group, and is the first university startup in Hong Kong to receive venture capital funding, according to Wisers.

Wisers, in Hong Kong, can be reached at http://www.wisers.com.

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