Inform.com announced today that the company has received a $15 million investment from Spark Capital. Inform analyzes content from online publishers and inserts links from a publisher's own content archives, affiliated sites or the web at large to augment content being published. The company says it already has more than 100 clients, including CNN.com, WashingtonPost.com and the Economist. Those who would contend that semantic web technology has not arrived can stick that in their pipes and smoke it.
Inform says its technology determines the semantic meaning of key words in millions of news stories around the web every day in order to recommend related content. The theory is that by automating the process of relevant link discovery and inclusion, Inform can easily add substantial value to a publisher's content. Inform also builds out automatic topic pages, something you can see around WashingtonPost and CNN.com. It sounds like a solid value proposition to me. This is the kind of thing that semantic technology is best at providing: making content machine readable allows the human mind to focus on genuinely creative work instead of determining things like what constitutes related content.
No. Inform crunches straight text and outputs HTML. I asked whether they publish content with any standards based semantic markup and they said that actual publishing is up to publishers. That's a shame, I don't see any reason why Inform wouldn't participate in the larger semantic web to make its publishers' content more discoverable. Perhaps when you've got 100 live clients and now $15m in the bank, it feels like there's no reason to open up and play nice with a movement of dreamers having trouble getting other apps out of academia.
While many publishers have been criticized for linking only to their own internal pages for reference (including many leading blogs) it's good to see that Inform at least provides the option of including outside links. That is, after all, one of the most important characteristics of the web - links from one site to another.
Inform indexes blogs, audio and video as well at standard web pages. It's a smart idea and similar to a number of related companies you may be more familiar with. Our own Alex Iskold runs AdaptiveBlue, a semantic company that offers related links tied to links already added by publishers and a semantic browser plug-in. SystemOne is an elegant system that offers related content automatically during the writing process. Lijit is a custom search engine of sorts, allowing you and your readers to manually search through a confined set of content.
The key way the above services probably differ is the degree of automation that they offer. Inform is highly automated, once a publisher sets up general rules for brining in related content. A publisher might say, for example, to insert a link to their own content on any terms they have more than 20 articles about from the past week, or that their affiliate network can provide content for with a certain minimum percentage of relevance.
There's some heavy math and linguistics going on at Inform and it's a good example of how proprietary technology is headed for the bank while open standards based approaches dawdle. In theory openness and standards should be clear winners in terms of ultimate value delivered to any company, someday. In the meantime, publishers can deploy Inform's semantic technology now.