A group of eight undergraduate students at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have created a computer application that "writes" books that can be read online, on e-readers, or printed out. The application, called "BookIt!," scours the online encyclopedia Wikipedia using just a few key words from the user and assembles the finished product — complete with title, table of contents, text and pictures — within a manner of minutes.
The students, under the supervision of Associate Professor Yossi Gil of the Faculty of Computer Science, were given an existing algorithm at the beginning of the semester, and challenged to develop an application for it. The project was carried out as part of the course, "Yearly Programming Project," which Prof. Gil said is the pinnacle of the software engineering degree program at the Technion.
"One of the course requirements was to relate to everything as if it was a start-up project and not as an academic assignment," says Michal Nir, one of the students. "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 students' intensive work on BookIt! took place over the course of a semester. The finished product is now available at http://tiny.cc/bookitnow. The site, say the students, is designed to run mainly on the Firefox and Chrome Web browsers.
"The algorithm searches Wikipedia for the requested variables and builds a type of 'relevance ladder' of different occurrences, from which it creates the book," says student Benjamin Kamfer. "It is not a blind search for these values, but a smart search that analyzes the relevance of the existing material in Wikipedia to the user-entered specifications."
"The method can be expanded to include information not just from Wikipedia, but from the entire Internet," adds student Saar Gross. "But this will require additional work. For the purposes of this course, it was very important to present a finished product and not something half way through development."
The students say they will continue to advance BookIt!, and that they are already working to further develop the algorithm and the site by improving the existing system capabilities and adding new features.
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