Thursday, November 20, 2008

Company Updates and New Profiles

Since publishing On The Cusp at the end of September, a number of companies have contacted me to schedule briefings and quite frankly, I'm very happy to do so. Of course, now I feel self-conscious because I have a bit of a backlog to attend to...
With that said, I'm planning to provide updates on the companies I've profiled while also profiling new companies (or at least, new to me) in the Semantic Web industry. Additionally, as I become aware of new information or discover something interesting, I'll provide updates accordingly. Along these lines, anyone reading this is welcome to contact me about companies they'd like to see profiled, even if it's their own(!)
In the meantime, you'll be seeing new profiles and updates starting in the very near future.

Company Profile: Inform Technologies, Inc.

Inform Technologies, Inc.
HQ: New York NY, USA
Products (Primary): Inform
Contact: Josh Kirschner
Vendor Category: NLP
Employees: --
Revenue: --
Installed base: --
Primary Offering:
It’s safe to say that Inform has built a successful business by using NLP technology to process its customer’s Web sites and then enrich these pages by linking to relevant content published elsewhere on the Web. One look at Inform’s customer list, which includes names like Ziff Davis, The Economist, Wired, and many more serves as solid evidence that the company has a winning product. Each of these customers has decided that it’s in their best interest to seek out relevant external content and then publish it to supplement the original article on the page. 
Increasingly, publishers seem motivated to engage in this practice in the belief that it reinforces their authoritative standing in the eyes of their audience. As would be expected, customers can control what external content is deemed suitable for publication on their site by creating white lists and black lists, as well as whether or not to keep visitors within the publisher’s “family” of media properties.
In practice, using Inform’s solution is easy enough – Inform hosts the back end where the processing is performed, and when a publisher creates an article its submitted through Inform’s API. The article is processed, the (desired) relevant content is identified and linked, and the results are returned to the customer for final publication. Aside from expanding the content presented to visitors, these results also play an important role in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), with customers reporting page views increasing by 10% to 20% and in some cases as high as 25%.
Key Differentiators:
In the course of its existence, Inform created a well developed, professionally maintained taxonomy. This complements the work of the company’s library scientists, linguists, and ontologists and has had the effect of positioning the company well to pursue specific vertical markets such as health. As a result, Inform is prepared to move into select industries and may well do so from a position of strength, unburdened by the need to play “catch up”.
A very interesting (and fully operational) example of just how far Inform’s solution can be extended is found at Reportedly, this site is operated by a single individual who uses a Reuters feed subscription to form the content kernel for processing by Inform. Clicking through the top-level Reuters content leads to pages the clearly include related articles from a wide range of publishers. Readership or audience numbers weren’t supplied, but the low fixed costs of this business suggest that modest advertising success could yield solid revenues for a one man operation.
Six/Twelve Month Plans:
Aside from its potential entry into specific verticals, Inform is considering opportunities in advertising. While it’s easy to imagine the extraction of primary concepts from an article and then associating relevant advertisements, the actual implementation has challenges which Inform has yet to fully define. Aside from these two possibilities, Inform is deep into execution mode and at this point, a primary goal for the company is to continue building on its track record of success.
Inform has a roster of believers who have contracted for their services. In many ways, the business case is fairly easy to express – in a traditional publishing environment there might be a number of editors who spend part of their time tagging stories for a variety of reasons. Time spent tagging means time taken away from other, higher value activities. Inform’s solution reduces this burden on content editors which translates into time savings, cost savings, and higher productivity (arguably, these are all ways to describe the same business result). These savings, combined with an improved audience experience, create a compelling argument for publishers to take a close look at this technology and how it fits with their overall goals.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I'm Tired of Google's Shell Game

I don't know anyone that can conclusively say what Google's up to with respect to the Semantic Web, so I'm embarking on a small mission to figure this out - or at least shed a little more light. There are more reasons than I can think of for taking a look at this issue, but for starters:
  • Android vs. Nokia's raft of SW efforts related to mobile environments, and Nokia's stated strategy of relying on three revenue streams deriving from handsets, Web services, and mobile content.
  • Google has a lot of smart people, many of whom are hired out of MIT (probably from the same building where the W3C is headquartered).
  • Unconfirmed reports that upon visiting W3C in Cambridge MA one or two years ago, Eric Schmidt commented that there was lots of "good stuff" going on there (but no research contracts were forthcoming).
  • I just searched on Google's US hiring page and got zero (0) results after using the following nine terms (one at a time with no operators): rdf, owl, sparql, ontology, semantic, uri (although url only got one result), linked, triple, graph.
  • Google's a member of the W3C and since May 1, 2008 nineteen (19) individuals with "" in their email address have posted on the W3C's public mailing lists (the lists that the working groups use). Some are quite prolific, particularly if they're chairing a working group. Lots of focus on geolocation.
My take is that the search terms have either been scrubbed from the posting results, scrubbed from the job descriptions, or Google just isn't hiring anyone with competencies in the nine areas searched on above. I find this last point unlikely for any forward looking company whose reason for being is the Web itself.
I'll persist in my research and report back - I'll also fill in some links to the points above as well.