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25 October 2010
Research
CityU’s e-book project receives mainland fund boost

Sally Ling

Professor Li Qing from the Department of Computer Science at City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has recently received a grant, worth up to RMB1.4 million, from the Natural Science Foundation of China under the Overseas and Hong Kong, Macau Scholars Collaborative Research Fund for an innovative online electronic book compilation system.

Professor Li’s system is more advanced than current online search engines as it can filter and search webpage information according to users’ requirements and present the information systematically in the form of an e-book catalogue.

To obtain the most appropriate information from the vast volume of webpages, Professor Li’s system will sort related information in sequence according to users’ search needs. The sorted webpages will then be presented in an e-book catalogue (or Table-of-Contents) for users to browse through. Based on the users’ choice, the system will download the related webpages and compile them into an e-book.

As the system aims to meet individual demand, its unique feature is personalisation. It can produce a tailored e-book according to each user’s individual interests and learning competence. Another particular feature of the system is its real-time update. Due to its automatic framework, the system can generate “revised editions” for an e-book by updating its content periodically or on individual user’s demand.

When searching online information, most conventional search engines rely on the degree of relevancy between the webpage content and users’ keywords. In contrast, the system that Professor Li’s team is working on will determine the importance of webpage content and its appropriateness for online learning by referring to three indicators: “authoritative”, “descriptive” and “self-contained”. While the “authoritative” indicator refers to the number of visitors to a webpage, the “descriptive” indicator reviews whether the content of a webpage is clearly written and easy to understand. The “self-contained” indicator requires close relevancy and completeness between webpage content and the user input topic, so as to ensure as few as possible navigations from one webpage to another in obtaining all the necessary information.

The objective of Professor Li’s online e-book compilation system is to provide an efficient Internet learning tool for people who need to understand, study and acquire new knowledge. Also, professionals like researchers, senior college students and ordinary people who want to study a subject systematically or obtain an overview of a particular discipline may find this system efficient and effective. Professor Li said, “I am optimistic that this system can assist people to build up an online e-book systematically from a large number of websites, thereby increasing people’s interests and efficiency of self-learning.”

Using information from websites to compile e-books is an emerging research area. Easy to use, an online e-book can cater to the needs of various types of users in different sectors. More importantly, it can help users find the most appropriate information from the Internet. With a personalised searching mode and real-time updates, Professor Li’s system will be a valuable learning tool for the Internet users.

Professor Li pointed out that e-books not only have high research value, but also high practical value. Thus, at a later stage of research, Professor Li will focus on the study of its applications and transform the research results as far as possible into a practical product.