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Silobreaker Brings a Graphical View to News Research
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Posted On February 7, 2008
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While news might be a readily available commodity in our internet world, a small U.K.-based company thinks there’s a better way to present it to users—with relational analysis and explanatory graphics that provide users with contextual insight. Silobreaker (www.silobreaker.com) has officially launched its new search service for news and current events. Its goal is to provide meaning, context, and insight to content using easily understood graphical tools. Silobreaker pulls current content from approximately 10,000 news, blog, research, and multimedia sources. It then automatically and on-the-fly extracts and tags people, companies, topics, places, and keywords; understands how they relate to each other in the news flow; and puts them in a visual context for the user. The free service is aimed at anyone wanting an in-depth perspective on current news for personal or business use, but it should prove especially appealing to journalists, researchers, scientists, consultants, marketing professionals, and industry analysts.

Silobreaker was formally introduced at the recent DEMO 08, an event that showcases new and innovative products and companies (www.demo.com). Chris Shipley, founding partner and editorial director of Guidewire Group and executive producer of DEMO, says, "The smart context extraction and relational analysis of Silobreaker is by far the best I have seen in the semantic search space. Silobreaker quickly becomes indispensable; it is an invaluable research tool with a sophisticated algorithm that I’d like to see proliferate in the search market."

"It’s no secret that the news industry as well as other information providers are being challenged to change. Information is everywhere and now it’s time to make sense of it all," comments Silobreaker CEO Kristofer Mansson. "Silobreaker provides a service that combines both aggregation and sense-making analytics; capable of answering time-sensitive and business-critical questions, as well as general queries, and we want it to be accessible to everyone."

Silobreaker offers several different ways to search and view content. Any page or visualization in Silobreaker can be filtered to narrow the search and improve relevance. 

  • 360° Search gives a comprehensive view of all available content 
  • Network Search displays real-time connections and relationships in a diagram that can be clicked, manipulated, and filtered 
  • Hot Spots Search maps the news with geographical connections (the size of the spot indicates article volume, the darker color indicates more recent) 
  • Trends Search shows media attention trends on a graph 
  • My Page enables personalization of news monitoring and analysis

The Details

The technology behind Silobreaker was developed as the extension of a thesis written by two of the founders while finishing their university degrees in computer science. The technology has been gradually developed since 2002 and had its first commercial application in 2005. Silobreaker was founded in 2005 as a joint venture between Infosphere AB, a Swedish commercial intelligence and knowledge strategy consultancy, and Elucidon, a U.K.-based holding company for companies providing intelligent search and analytics technology. Infosphere also operates the information portal, Able2Act.com, which supplies the Fact Sheets used by Silobreaker. Silobreaker is based in the U.K., with offices in London and Stockholm. The company is privately funded and will be looking to raise additional funds in 2008.

Breaking down the separate silos of information that exist in organizations and throughout industries is the reasoning behind the name Silobreaker. Thus Silobreaker aggregates content from diverse sources, provides analytics, and facilitates sharing of information.

In early 2006, Silobreaker introduced a subscription-based current awareness service for the U.S. market that focused on the understanding and analysis of global instabilities (it had been introduced in Europe in 2005). It was aimed at "light or casual information professionals" and was priced at $199 per year (see the NewsLink article, "Text Analytics Enable Intelligence Solutions," http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=17281 ). It was intended to test the viability of applying the technology to a segment of the news market. The user reaction was extremely positive and the demand for this type of service was confirmed.

Mansson says that the company realized the product could have a much broader reach than just the intelligence community. So it introduced a new beta (really an alpha, he says) in the summer of 2007. At DEMO 08, it launched a completely new version.

The service has been made available for free now to gain traffic and also to showcase the technology. Eventually the free site will be ad supported. Mansson expects the company will develop versions of this aimed at the enterprise (with companies eventually able to upload their own content as well) and targeted at verticals, content publishers, and online services. He says, "Up ’til now, all of our energies have been entirely focused on product development—now the fun begins."

Reactions

One company has been looking at Silobreaker to help it deliver news and research to its customers. Lance Uggla, CEO of Markit Group Ltd. (www.markit.com), a provider of independent pricing data in the global credit markets, says, "Silobreaker provides an innovative news aggregation service which sets them apart from other news sites because of their in-depth search approach and graphic representation of the findings. We are working with Silobreaker to broaden and enhance Markit’s products with this novel way of analyzing the news."

Outsell vice president and lead analyst Daniel Pollock says that "visualization tools are what vertical search will evolve into, and will emerge as key technologies to link content to workflow." Furthermore, he comments, these tools: "(a) are increasingly being seen by information providers as a way to differentiate themselves and attract traffic away from the generic GYM searches; (b) as information becomes increasingly commoditized and widely available online, ‘findability’ is becoming increasingly important as information providers try to attract users’ attention through the noise of information. Vertical search, especially when augmented by Visualisation tools, aids findability and so adds value."

Computing consultant Seth Grimes says that "Silobreaker visualizations add huge value to the company’s underlying news-aggregation service."

Richard Martin, writing in InformationWeek, calls Silobreaker "very, very cool." He particularly praised the relational mapping capabilities. He says "The usefulness of this tool for a journalist like me is quite obvious. I think it has even more powerful uses in the corporate and government world, though, and not just for Web searches but for making and analyzing connections between data in various databases. Just think, for instance, how history might be different if the FBI had been able to use this tool to trace the connections between the known al Qaeda operatives who were attending pilot school in the United States in the late 1990s."

One blogger, who saw Silobreaker at DEMO 08, called the Network Search feature "brilliant."

Lynda Ting, a member of the Emerging Business Team at Microsoft, blogged that Silobreaker was one of her favorites at DEMO 08. She says that "Based on statistical relationships, they are the first company I’ve come across that is able to perform sophisticated visualization and text analytic-like functionality on large unstructured data sets like news articles." But, she continues, "[W]hat really gets me excited about SiloBreaker is the way a user can manipulate the relationships on the entity map. This visualization tool itself is not rocket science, but a user can "trash" entities by simply dragging and dropping them into the bin, and see the reconstruction of the relationships on the fly. Just wait until you can add your own entities to the entity relationship map."

IDC analyst Susan Feldman was a bit more restrained, calling it "Not new ground, but nicely packaged." She did say the "visualizations were striking." She adds, "You can also do trend analysis—the growing frequency of a term. I liked the fact that they had combined a number of technologies in order to find categories and synonyms. The interface I saw reminded me of Factiva’s Search 2.0, but aimed at a different user group (consumers who don’t want to pay for content)."

A video of the Silobreaker presentation from DEMO 08 is available at
www.demo.com/demonstrators/videolibrary.html?bcpid=1127798146&bclid=1396518815&bctid=1392526687.


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.



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