What do you get when you combine Semantic Web technology, geo-targeting capabilities, and Apple iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad? How about News360, a free App Store/iTunes app that can give you local news drawn from hundreds of content sources around the world based on your current position. While the team at News360 that developed the technology is based in Russia, the company’s focus is on English-language content, and about 80 percent of its users are U.S.-based.
The app was just updated at year’s end to include, along with some UI redesign and layout features, up-to-date stock graphs for all public companies and more data and links between objects in the dossiers it collects for each of the 130,000 different entities it currently tracks across the Internet. Plans for the service, which can extract users’ favorite objects so that news is more personalized, were to grow from 600 content sources to 1000 by the end of December, says Roman Karachinsky, chief business development officer at News360, with the bigger next-steps goal of reaching 2,000 or 3,000.
Approximately 150,000 articles are indexed by the service each day, and a chunk of them have their full text processed for semantic analysis, with the help of Microsoft’s cloud resources, so that they are available to users no later than 15 minutes after their original publication.
The cloud’s coming, says Karachinsky, is good news for news aggregation services. “News is published in bursts,” he says, with thousands of stories hitting in the morning hours and then thousands more in the span of a couple of hours in the afternoon. “So clouds make a lot of sense because you don’t need all that capacity all the time, but for short bursts of analysis,” he says.
Apart from the main core platform and categorization engine, the technology features a clusterization engine that uses information gleaned from its entity extraction and dossiers to group articles into cohesive news stories, much like Google does. A cluster, for example, would be news about Barack Obama traveling to China, while a category would include articles related to any Barack Obama trips. Its clusters recognize up to 2,000 topics per day. Karachinsky says News360’s use of semantic metadata to differentiate between different clusters means it can out-Google Google on this front. “Imagine there are five different car crashes in five different areas – those kinds of stories all use the same terms, have the same lexical structure. But so as not to lump it into one big cluster about car crashes we use geographical information we gather from the article and entity extraction to differentiate different clusters,” he says.
Going mobile was a deliberate choice, in part because – no matter the advantages of its use of semantic technology – it’s hard to out-Google Google when it comes to the popularity of Google News for desktop-based web searches. “If we talked about the web or general desktop approach, there may not be a lot of companies doing this [with semantic technology], but there are several good efforts, like EVRI. And Google news, from a presentation approach if not [from a] semantic analysis [standpoint], is the most popular,” says Karachinsky.
The mobile space seemed less occupied and seemed to provide a better route for News 360 to come to the fore with a differentiated product that could hone in on the local news consumers want. “We cover as many local sources as possible, since we have the geo-targeting feature that uses GPS to give you local news wherever you are,” he says. “None of the individual publications have enough local content to cover the whole country. You might download an application [to get news] from your San Francisco newspaper, but you can’t get much content from there if you are traveling to another country or city. If you’re flying to Koala Lumpur in two weeks, you can look up the news there now” with News360.
The service currently hews to general-purpose coverage, such as politics and business, but it’s planning to add more content categories to make it easier for people to explore news about their favorite topics (horse dressage, anyone?) without having to specifically subscribe to dozens of RSS feeds. It also would like to make the service available in other Western languages – after it reaches its main goal of becoming the best news platform in the U.S. market, Karachinsky says.
At the time it announced its update, News360 also revealed that it received seed funding from Oradell Equities, Inc., a venture capital fund, created by Russia’s IBS group, that invests in start-up companies. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The VC market for seed-level funding, Karachinksy says, has not traditionally been strong in Russia, but he thinks it’s improving – though not anywhere approaching U.S. investment levels yet.
Another Russian semantic web venture, search engine Yandex, also may have some financial news to report soon. It’s been reported here that it’s thought to be considering an IPO for up to $1.5 billion.
“Yandex is the way 40 percent of people search in Russia,” says Karachinsky, who says the company has a lot of talent, a strong pool of tech ideas, and a good image at home. That said, it wouldn’t be surprising if it didn’t have its own eye on Google as a competitor. “Google has certainly made a very sizeable entry in the market in the last three or four years,” Karachinsky says, speculating that it probably has 30 percent of the search market. “And the general perception is that they haven’r really tried to compete with Yandex. By sheer force of existence they took up that much of the market.”