Robin Burke

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FAQ Finder


FAQ Finder is a system that retrieves answers to natural language questions from USENET FAQ files. The system integrates symbolic knowledge and statistical data in doing its question-matching. Part of the challenge was to pre-compile as much of the system's knowledge as possible so that answers could be found in fast enough to satisfy the constraints of Web use.
One issue raised by this research is the need to have the system correctly identify that a question cannot be answered. This problem is not one that can be addressed under the standard definition of the information retrieval problem. Even the TREC question-answering track doesn't evaluate systems on this property.

The System

The system was made available in the Summer of 1996, but the FAQs from which it retrieved were never updated and eventually it was taken out of service in 2000. FAQ Finder was implemented in Allegro Common Lisp on top of the CL-HTTP web server.


Approximately 170,000 questions asked of the FAQ Finder system over 4 years are available for research purposes. (Gzipped txt, 335K)

Selected Publications

Burke, R., Hammond, K., Kulyukin, V., Lytinen, S., Tomuro, N. & Schoenberg, S. Question Answering from Frequently-Asked Question Files: Experiences with the FAQ Finder System.AI Magazine, 18(2), pages 57-66, 1997. (Postscript 1.5M)

Burke, R., Hammond, K. & Cooper, E. Knowledge-based Information Retrieval from Semi-structured Text. In AAAI Workshop on Internet-based Information Systems, page 9-15. AAAI, 1996. (Postscript, 3.4M)