Dr. Phil Hastings and Dr. David Milward spoke with me in June, 2010, as I was completing the Gilbane report, Semantic Software Technologies: A Landscape of High Value Applications for the Enterprise. My interest in a conversation was stimulated by several months of discussions with customers of numerous semantic software companies. Having heard perspectives from early adopters of Linguamatics’ I2E and other semantic software applications, I wanted to get some comments from two key officers of Linguamatics about what I heard from the field. Dr. Milward is a founder and CTO, and Dr. Hastings is the Director of Business Development.
A company with sustained profitability for nearly ten years in the enterprise semantic market space has credibility. Reactions from a maturing company to what users have to say are interesting and carry weight in any industry. My lines of inquiry and the commentary from the Linguamatics officers centered around their own view of the market and adoption experiences.
When asked about growth potential for the company outside of pharmaceuticals where Linguamatics already has high adoption and very enthusiastic users, Drs. Milward and Hastings asserted their ongoing principal focus in life sciences. They see a lot more potential in this market space, largely because of the vast amounts of unstructured content being generated, coupled with the very high-value problems that can be solved by text mining and semantically analyzing the data from those documents. Expanding their business further in the life sciences means that they will continue engaging in research projects with the academic community. It also means that Linguamatics semantic technology will be helping organizations solve problems related to healthcare and homeland security.
The wisdom of a measured and consistent approach comes through strongly when speaking with Linguamatics executives. They are highly focused and cite the pitfalls of trying to “do everything at once,” which would be the case if they were to pursue all markets overburdened with tons of unstructured content. While pharmaceutical terminology, a critical component of I2E, is complex and extensive, there are many aids to support it. The language of life sciences is in a constant state of being enriched through refinements to published thesauri and ontologies. However, in other industries with less technical language, Linguamatics can still provide important support to analyze content in the detection of signals and patterns of importance to intelligence and planning.
Much of the remainder of the interview centered on what I refer to as the “team competencies” of individuals who identify the need for any semantic software application; those are the people who select, implement and maintain it. When asked if this presents a challenge for Linguamatics or the market in general, Milward and Hastings acknowledged a learning curve and the need for a larger pool of experts for adoption. This is a professional growth opportunity for informatics and library science people. These professionals are often the first group to identify Linguamatics as a potential solutions provider for semantically challenging problems, leading business stakeholders to the company. They are also good advocates for selling the concept to management and explaining the strong benefits of semantic technology when it is applied to elicit value from otherwise under-leveraged content.
One Linguamatics core operating principal came through clearly when talking about the personnel issues of using I2E, which is the necessity of working closely with their customers. This means making sure that expectations about system requirements are correct, examples of deployments and “what the footprint might look like” are given, and best practices for implementations are shared. They want to be sure that their customers have a sense of being in a community of adopters and are not alone in the use of this pioneering technology. Building and sustaining close customer relationships is very important to Linguamatics, and that means an emphasis on services co-equally with selling licenses.
Linguamatics has come a long way since 2001. Besides a steady effort to improve and enhance their technology through regular product releases of I2E, there have been a lot of “show me” and “prove it” moments to which they have responded. Now, as confidence in and understanding of the technology ramps up, they are getting more complex and sophisticated questions from their customers and prospects. This is the exciting part as they are able to sell I2E’s ability to “synthesize new information from millions of sources in ways that humans cannot.” This is done by using the technology to keep track of and processing the voluminous connections among information resources that exceed human mental limits.
At this stage of growth, with early successes and excellent customer adoption, it was encouraging to hear the enthusiasm of two executives for the evolution of the industry and their opportunities in it.
The Gilbane report and a deep dive on Linguamatics are available through this Press Release on their Web site.
Trying to summarize a technology space as varied as that covered in two days at the Search Engines Meeting in Boston, April 26-27, is a challenge and opportunity. Avoiding the challenge of trying to represent the full spectrum, I’ll stick with the opportunity. Telling you that search is everywhere, in every technology we use and has a multitude of cousins and affiliated companion technologies is important.
The Gilbane Group focuses on content technologies. In its early history this included Web content management, document management, and CMS systems for publishers and enterprises. We now track related technologies expanding to areas including standards like DITA and XML, adoption of social tools, plus rapid growth in the drive to localize and globalize content; Gilbane has kept up with these trends.
My area, search and more specifically “enterprise search” or search “behind the firewall,” was added just over three years ago. It seemed logical to give attention to the principal reason for creating, managing and manipulating content, namely finding it. When I pay attention to search engines, I am also thinking about adjoining content technologies. My recent interest is helping readers learn about how technology on both the search side and content management/manipulation side need better context; that means relating the two.
If one theme ran consistently through all the talks at Enterprise Search Meeting, it was the need to define search in relationship to so many other content technologies. The speakers, for the most part, did a fine job of making these connections.
Here are just some snippets:
Bipin Patel CIO of ProQuest, shared the technology challenges of maintaining a 24/7 service while driving improvements to the search usability interface. The goal is to deliver command line search precision to users who do not have the expertise to (or patience) to construct elaborate queries. Balancing the tension between expert searchers (usually librarians) with everyone else who seeks content underscores the importance of human factors. My take-away: underlying algorithms and architecture are worth little if usability is neglected.
Martin Baumgartel spoke on the Theseus project for the semantic search marketplace, a European collaborative initiative. An interesting point for me is their use of SMILA (SeMantic Information Logistics Architecture) from Eclipse. By following some links on the Eclipse site I found this from the International Theseus Convention in 2009. The application of this framework model underscores the interdependency of many semantically related technologies to improve search.
Tamas Doszkocs of the National Library of Medicine told a well-annotated story of the decades of search and content enhancement technologies that are evolving to contribute to semantically richer search experiences. His metaphors in the evolutionary process were fun and spot-on at a very practical level: Libraries as knowledge bases > Librarians as search engines > the Web as the knowledge base > Search engines as librarians > moving toward understanding, content, context, and people to bring us semantic search. A similar presentation is posted on the Web.
David Evans noted that there is currently no rigorous evaluation methodology yet for mobile search but is it very different than what we do with desktop search. One slide that I found most interesting was the Human Language Technologies (HLT) that contribute to a richer mobile search experience, essentially numerous semantic tools. Again, this underscores that the challenges of integrating sophisticated hardware, networking and search engine architectures for mobile search are just a piece of the solution. Adoption will depend on tools that enhance content findability and usability.
Jeff Fried of Microsoft/Fast talked about “social search” and put forth this important theme: that people like to connect to content through other people. He made me recognize how social tools are teaching us that the richness of this experience is a self-reinforcing mechanism toward “the best way to search.” It has lessons for enterprises as they struggle to adopt social tools in mindful ways in tandem with improving search experiences.
Shekhar Pradhan of Docunexus shared this relevant thought about a failure of interface architecture and that is (to paraphrase): the ubiquitous search box fails because it does not demand context or mechanisms for resolving ambiguity. Obviously, this breaks down adoption for enterprise search when it is the only option offered.
Many more talks from this meeting will get rolled up in future reports and blogs.
I want to learn your experiences and observations about semantic search and semantic technologies, as well. Please note that we have posted a brief survey for a short time at: Semantic Technology Survey. If you have any involvement with semantic technologies, please take it.