Netbase is an enterprise-facing software and search company that appears to have one of the most advanced search platforms in the market. Earlier this week during a briefing Netbase marketing and product VP Jens Tellefsen asserted that no other search provider in the consumer or enterprise segment was as advanced — an audacious claim.
Tellefsen went to considerable lengths with me to back up the assertion, however. He said, “The closest thing we’ve seen is what Powerset was trying to do.” But he added that Powerset was essentially an elaborate proof of concept (subsequently acquired by Microsoft), while Netbase is a fully functioning search technology platform that is being used today by major publishers, enterprises and the US government.
To “come out” in a manner of speaking and demonstrate its capabilities to a broader public, Netbase has launched vertical search site HealthBase, a kind of “technology showcase” for the company’s “content intelligence” platform and semantic search capabilities. If HealthBase gets a positive response I was told perhaps the company will move into the consumer search business. But that’s not the main point of the site at the moment. Indeed there’s a very “enterprise-y” quality to the look and feel of HealthBase.
According to the press release that came out this morning:
healthBase is the first example of Content Intelligence that is open and available to the public. The showcase uses Content Intelligence technology to automatically find treatments for any health condition or disease; pros and cons of any treatment, medication and food, and more. Like all NetBase-powered applications, healthBase enables users to get summarized answers and insights automatically from millions of online sources.Each question takes seconds to answer and is equivalent to someone manually reading thousands of documents. As no manual work is required to build the semantic index, healthBase can search on and find answers to tens of thousands of health conditions, diseases, treatments, medications, supplements, foods and even plants.
Tellefsen said that while companies such as Healthline appear to offer “semantic search,” he argued that was the product of “months and months of human effort, tagging documents, and so on.” By contrast Tellefsen explained the HealthBase index and content compiled and created “in a couple of days” without any human intervention. He said this approach can be “replicated across domains,” meaning other verticals.
Netbase does its own crawl, which depending on the implementation can include the Internet and/or specific private databases. In the case of HeathBase the company has crawled a limited group of sites that include PubMed, WebMD, the Mayo Clinic, Healthline, Yahoo Health and a number of others.
In explaining the back end, Tellefsen said that Netbase “reads and understands” sentences and the causal connections and relationships between words in those sentences. This enables content and search results to be organized in ways that make them more intelligible and accessible. It also makes possible discovery of information that might otherwise be deeply buried within search results or documents within those results.
One might look at this page and say “that’s just clustering.” And other companies have made similar claims about parsing and “understanding” content. But validation seems to come from Netbase customers. The company’s platform and technology have been in the market for several years (in various forms since 2004) and are being used today by P&G, the US Army, Reed Elsevier and others. To independently test Netbase’s claims you’d have to systematically do lots of searches across a number of top health sites and compare results. However I was impressed with the material I saw and demonstration that I received.