Bing.com, the Microsoft search engine, is offering "Bing Reference", a way to search "enhanced Wikipedia articles" (available under "more" from the main page of Bing). The "Reference" page initially displays a Wikipedia article corresponding to the search engine's daily wallpaper. From the reference page, users can then search pages from Wikipedia and from Freebase, which is a large collaborative knowledge base.
Natural-language searches done on the "Reference" page generate a page of thumbnailed results. Any available results from Freebase will display first, and Wikipedia articles with excerpts display below these. The Wikipedia search is based on a locally hosted copy of the article database.
If the search is for a common term that has Freebase pages in multiple categories associated with it, these pages will display as tabs across the top of the search results. For example, a search for "ship" nets Freebase pages labeled "Ship; Computer game; DS9 episode; Gifted education; Novel; Comics; 2002 film."
When you click to view a full Wikipedia article, the enhancements offered include a "preview" link that displays when you hover over hyperlinks, similar to the Popups extension first developed by user:Lupin; an "article outline" box on the right-hand side that links to the sections of the article, similar to the Babaco usability experimental feature (see last issue); and a "highlighter" tool, which lets you to highlight a sentence or paragraph of an article with the mouse, then auto-generates a unique URL for that section which can be copied or saved. Additionally, a link to display thumbnails of all images in the article is provided.
Categories (including hidden maintenance categories) and cleanup tags are displayed for each article, and links to the history and original article are provided. A license notice at the end of each article states "All Wikipedia content is licensed under the GNU Free Document License or the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license or is otherwise used here in compliance with the Copyright Act," with locally hosted copies of each license linked.
At the bottom of the search results, a section entitled "Factz from Wikipedia" displays semantic links based on text-mining of Wikipedia articles. For instance, the same search for 'ship' tells us that ships "carry: crew, raids, amount, trifles, include, merchandise, points, caps, cannon; make: raids, voyage, collision, salute, stops, pass, landfall, passage and New Amsterdam; enter: ports, Mediterranean, orbit, Bay, world and Abkhazia," and much more. Each word links to the snippet of article from which the association is drawn. Whether this feature makes much sense seems to depend on the term chosen.
The Reference page features, including the semantic search, were developed by the Powerset team at Bing. Powerset was acquired by Microsoft last year.