Northern Light (www.northernlight.com) has been providing business research content and search technology since its founding in 1996. It offered one of the first web search engines for business professionals and became well-known for its helpful blue results folders. Since 2002, the company’s main business has been in providing content and tools to enterprises. It offered its Business Research Engine (BRE; www.nlresearch.com) via subscription or annual licenses. (For background, see our NewsBreak at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=18160.) However, the company has been quietly gearing up for a major change—the company stopped charging for BRE subscriptions last November, and, in December 2007, it starting redirecting traffic to a new, free, beta business search engine at www.nlsearch.com, which is due to launch in April. In addition to searching the best of the web’s business news sources and blogs, the new Northern Light Search now provides text analytics and "meaning extraction" capabilities from Northern Light’s MI Analyst application, formerly only available to the company’s enterprise clients. It also offers some collaborative social computing features, such as Market Intelligence Wikis.
When the search service officially launches "sometime in mid-April," it will include a series of widgets that leverage the search activity of the Northern Light Search community of business researchers. These search widgets will include tag clouds of the most popular search terms and lists of the most popular articles accessed by other business users.
C. David Seuss, Northern Light’s CEO, says this is the best public facing search engine Northern Light has ever done. He says the new Northern Light Search allows small firms and individual researchers to use tools previously available only to Fortune 50 companies.
"Northern Light is defining the future for the automated analysis and discovery of business meaning from large stores of business-related content," says Seuss. "With Northern Light Search, researchers not only have a highly focused search tool tailored to business content that leverages the network of business researchers using it, they also have an automated assistant to help them identify key themes in articles and draw connections between companies, technologies, and market trends—which can save many hours of analysis time and help researchers identify emerging business strategy issues much earlier than they might have otherwise."
The content in Northern Light Search now includes the following:
- Business news—More than 500,000 up-to-the-minute business news stories from hundreds of newswires, newspapers, corporate news feeds, and publications will be updated every few minutes.
- Industry authority blogs—The search engine will make more than 200,000 posts from thousands of editorially selected business and industry authority blogs (blogs from journalists, market research analysts, and corporate executives) available.
- National and international news—More than 90,000 general and business news stories from national and international news feeds will be offered.
- Regional and local news—More than 180,000 general and business news stories from regional and local news feeds will be made available.
- White papers—More than 7,000 company submitted white papers, webcasts, case studies, and other IT product information will be available.
Seuss says the new Northern Light Search is the result of the "collision" of three trends. First, we’ve seen a dramatic shift to free and open web access for even many high-end publications. "It became easier for us to get content from the web than from our licensees … This is the best set of content NL has ever offered," he says. Second, with the overwhelming amount of content available, it became increasingly clear that automated discovery and meaning extraction was essential—first for Northern Light’s enterprise products and now for the free Northern Light Search. And, third, the increasing interest by users in collaborating, sharing, and in user-generated content called for implementing new Web 2.0 technologies.
The Market Intelligence Wikis provide an overview of selected industries and business trends, with a detailed picture of market segments, issues, breaking news, companies, and government regulatory actions. Northern Light’s librarians have seeded the wikis by scouring news and industry sources for authoritative news, analysis, and commentary to create wiki sites for a dozen industries. Northern Light previously offered these to BRE users as Market Intelligence Centers (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=16256) and then decided to convert them to the wiki format for the new Northern Light Search, using the same engine that powers Wikipedia to make it familiar to users.
The integrated meaning extraction capability in Northern Light Search is enabled by Northern Light’s MI Analyst application, which the company launched last May as an option to its SinglePoint hosted market research portal and content integration application for large enterprises (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=36109). MI Analyst goes beyond the extraction of just nouns—people, places, things, etc. It uses advanced text analytics technologies to provide entity extraction for key business facets, relationship identification between entities, sentiment scoring, meaning extraction, and trend analysis.
Meaning extraction provides a search application with an in-depth understanding of the searched material. By combining free-text searching with advanced text analytics, MI Analyst is designed to speed and improve a researcher’s ability to analyze articles, identifying the strategy issues and suggesting the business implications of the analyzed content. The company recently launched its second major release, MI Analyst 2.0, which added many new facets (categories of terms) by which the software can analyze search results (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/wndReader.asp?ArticleId=41078). MI Analyst can highlight threats and opportunities regarding products, market share, pricing, new technologies, marketing partnerships, and corporate strategy.
Northern Light’s enterprise customers can opt to include Northern Light Search as part of their SinglePoint portals (other options include MI Analyst and SinglePoint Connects, which provides Web 2.0 features). In fact, Northern Light Search was shown first to these customers, such as users at Unisys Corp. The Business News option for SinglePoint customers is supplemented with 70 licensed newswires.
Northern Light Search is open for free to all users. Registration is only required to take advantage of the advanced functionality, such as Saved Searches and Alerts, Expert Searches, contributing to the Market Intelligence Wikis, and saving user preferences. Seuss says the free search engine serves as an open and freely available presentation of the company’s capabilities for potential enterprise customers. "And, if a lot of people use it, we can sell ads," he says.
Samuel Dean, a blogger at Web Worker Daily, calls Northern Light Search "the best free resource I know of for business-related searches." Temple University librarian David Dillard remains unimpressed with the new tool, however. He stresses the broad coverage in the Google specialized search engines (Scholar, News, U.S. government, and Books), and the free access available for library patrons to the capabilities in the fee-based databases from EBSCO and ProQuest. But, for many of us veteran web searchers, the return of Northern Light as a free business web search engine—with many more analytical bells and whistles—should prove to be a welcome addition to our arsenal of search tools.