Keywords are out! Kaput! Passé! Semantic search is in.
Just as Rosie used a paper towel that was a “quicker picker upper,” digital search has become more exact by using semantic search technology.
On May 16, Mashable reported that Google search would no longer be based on keywords in a search string, but on a much more refined understanding of how language is used. From now on, Google search will employ semantic search technology to derive the ordered list of search engine ranking pages (SERPs). Google calls this new process ”The Knowledge Graph,” and introduced the concept in the Google blog.
Semantic search uses a deeper understanding of the relationship between words and the intent of the searcher, so when you type in something on a search engine or on a closed loop system (like that found in an enterprise), the underlying software examines the broader meaning, digests it, and spits back results that are much more relevant.
Semantic technology is a subject touched on in a previous post profiling an education start-up, but it deserves a deeper dive. In addition to changing how folks find answers on the web, it is also revolutionizing the tools of business.
According to the Gilbane Group, semantic software technology has led to a wide variety of improvements in:
- text mining
- concept extraction
- data normalizing
- sentiment analysis
- auto-categorization, i.e., tagging, and many other areas.
Knowing about semantic technology in a basic way will enable you to keep an eye out for vendors that offer game-changing new businesses, or additional product features that give competitive advantage.
Applying semantic search technology to business challenges in journalism and content strategy
Two of the most widespread applications of semantic search are in the publishing and life sciences industries. Why? The goal of publishers–both traditional and corporate–is to capture breaking news as well as “the bull’s eye” of human interest within a knowledge area, making automation highly attractive. Likewise, sorting through scientific findings and more effectively culling relevant information increases the value of that resource to the pharmaceutical and medical communities.
A case study: NewsCred is a platform that connects publishers and brands with the world’s best journalism. They license, curate, and syndicate content (full-text articles, images, and video) from over 750 premium sources, making the newswire business a less painful, more efficient one for its clients. It does so by employing semantic technology along with human editors. Mojo40 talked with Shafqat Islam, Co-Founder of NewsCred, to learn how the firm helps solve some of the problems of the media industry.
Mojo40: What do you offer that is new?
Shafqat: A completely reinvented way to license, publish, and syndicate content. While traditional newspapers have worked with regular wire services like the Associated Press and Reuters for 50 or 100 years, relying on traditional syndication models doesn’t work in today’s digital age. We offer syndicated content from a wide array of different providers that is better targeted to our customers’ needs. We employ semantic technology that automatically organizes and extracts meaning from the content. But in addition to doing it algorithmically, we have a team of human editors that improves results by adding the human touch before we distribute it via an API (application programming interface) to all our clients.
Mojo40: Since you started the firm in 2008, how has your focus changed?
Shafqat: When we first started out, we offered a rating system for people to rate what they read on the web. We tried to license content from Reuters, Getty Images, et cetera. It was a difficult and time-consuming business doing individual deals. And the technology they used seemed antiquated.
Although we were passionate about the consumer angle, we learned that we weren’t great at marketing a consumer site; and the market need itself was too small to scale. Staring at the problems in journalism, an industry that seemed fairly broken, we realized we had to turn it around. Our strength was in sales and technology. As we became more self-aware, we pivoted from a consumer-focused business to a business-focused business (B2B).
Now we serve two kinds of clients, traditional publishers such as The New York Daily News, Forbes, and Business Insider, and corporate brands. We are tapping into the wave of brands becoming publishers. Every brand today has a content team and a content strategy.
Mojo40: How did you get your B2B service off the ground?
Shafqat: I’m a big believer that you should never build a full product to take to market. Talk with customers a while before you build. We also talked to mentors. Initially, we built a B2B platform that used RSS feeds to do the proof of concept.
We spent a year in business development, getting customers to sign up while also signing up content providers.
Mojo40: Can you give me an example of how a client uses your service?
Shafqat: The New York Daily News aimed to publish local news of the Asian community on its website, to serve the growing South Asian demographic. But instead of hiring news reporters right from the start, they used our service to feed content that was highly targeted and curated to their site. It quickly captured the hearts and minds of its audience. Once this experiment proved itself, they were able to hire more journalists.
Mojo40: How about a brand?
Shafqat: There are lots of small pharma brands within Johnson & Johnson. One of those brands wanted to create utility around certain topics of health and disease. Instead of just selling pharmaceuticals to doctors, they aimed to use technology to identify and curate articles flowing through an API feed, to fill an iPhone app. This app presents articles on 30 different topics, becoming a valuable resource for the doctors.
Similarly, insurance companies seek to become thought leaders on topics they service. Zurich Insurance wants to provide expert knowledge, for example, on post disaster business recovery. While that is a hard concept to define, our algorithm helps them identify and curate content in that area.
Mojo40: How big a firm are you?
Shafqat: We are 45 people including about 25 in the US, 2 in London, and the rest in Bangladesh. One of my co-founders, Iraj Islam, actually moved from Sweden to Bangladesh to run the office there.
Mojo40: What are the most important traits you seek in your employees? Are you hiring?
Shafqat: There’s one trait that I value more than any other: perseverance. I look for people that are relentlessly resourceful. On top of that, everyone here has some passion for newspapers and a particular zeal for finding solutions for this industry. Yes, we are looking for programmers and a few other key hires in our NY office.
Mojo40: Anything you would like to add?
Shafqat: I think one of the things we are most proud of at NewsCred is that we’re building out a team that wants journalism not just to survive, but to thrive and flourish.
Photo with Amit Singhal quote courtesy of Creative Commons 2.0, Will Lion.
What do you think about these kinds of evolving opportunities? Please share in the comments.
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