Delphes: A Low-Profile Search Vendor

February 17, 2008

Now that I am in clean up mode for Beyond Search, I have been double-checking my selection of companies for the “Profiles” section of the study. In a few days, I will make public a summary of the study’s contents. The publisher — The Gilbane Group — will also post an informational page. Publication is likely to be very close to the previously announced target of April 2008.

Yesterday, I used the Entopia system as the backbone of a mini-case study. Today — Sunday, February 17, 2008 — I want to provide some information about an interesting company not included in my Beyond Search study.

The last information I received from this company arrived in 2006, but the company’s Web site explicitly copyrights its content for 2008. When I telephoned on Friday, February 15, 2008, I went to voice mail. Therefore, I believe the company is in business.

Delphes, in the tradition of search and content processing companies, is a variant of the English word Delphi. You are probably familiar with the oracle of Delphi. I think the name of the company is intended to evoke a system that speaks with authority. As far as I know, Delphes is a private concern and concentrates its sales and marketing efforts in Canada, Francophone nations, and Spain. When I mention the name Delphes to Americans, I’m usually met with a question, “What did you say?” Delphes has a very low profile in the United States. I don’t recall seeing the company on the program of the search-and-retrieval conferences I attended in 2006 or 2007, but I go to a small number of shows. I may have overlooked the company’s sessions.

The Company’s Approach

The “guts” of the Delphes’ search-and-retrieval system is based on natural language processing embedded in a platform. The firm’s product is marketed as Diogene, another Greek variant. Diogenes, as you know, was a popular name in Greece. I assume the Diogenes to which Delphes is derived is Diogenes of Sinope, sometimes remembered as the Cynic More information about Diogenes of Sinope is here.)

Diogene extracts information using “dynamic natural language processing”. The iterative, linguistic process generates metadata, tags concepts, and classifies information processed by the system.
The company’s technology is available in enterprise, Web, and personal versions of the system. DioWeb Enterprise is the behind-the-firewall version of the product. You can license from the company DioMorpho which is for an individual user on a single workstation. Delphes works through a number of partners, and you can deal directly with the company for an on-premises license or an OEM (original equipment manufacturing) deal. Its partners include Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, and EMC, among others.

When I first looked at Delphes in 2002, the company had a good reputation in Montréal (Québec), Toronto and Ottawa (Ontario). The company’s clients now include governmental agencies, insurance companies, law firms, financial institutions, healthcare institutions, and consulting firms, among others. You can explore how some of the firm’s clients use the firm’s content processing technology by navigating to the Québec International Portal. The search and content processing for this Web site is provided by Delphes.

The company’s Web site includes a wealth of information about the architecture of the system, its features and functions, and services available from the company. The company offers a PDF that describes in a succinct way the features of what the company calls its “Intelligent Knowledge Management System”. You can download the IKMS overview document here.


Information about the technical underpinnings of Delphes is sketchy. I have in my files a Delphes document called “The Birth of Digital Intelligence: Extranet and Internet Solutions”. This information, dated 2004, includes a high-level schematic of the Delphes system. Keep in mind that the company has enhanced its technology, but I think we can use this diagram to form a general impression of the system. Note: these diagrams were available in open sources, and are copyrighted by Delphes.

system archtecture

The “linguistic soul” of the system is encapsulated in two clusters of sub systems. First, there is the “advanced analysis” for content processing. This set of functions performs semantic analysis, which “understands” each processed document. The second system permits cross-language operation. Canada is officially bilingual, so for Delphes to make sales in Canadian agencies, the system must handle multiple languages and have a means to permit a user to locate information using either English or French.

The “body” of the system includes a distributed architecture, multi-index support, a federating function, support for XML and Web services. In short, Delphes followed the innovation trajectory of Autonomy (LO:AU), Endeca, and Fast Search & Transfer (NASDAQ:MSFT). One can argue that Delphes has a system of comparable sophistication that permits the same customization and scaling.

Delphes makes a live demo available in a side-by-side comparison with Google. The content used for the demo comes from the Cisco Systems’ Web site. You can explore this live implementation in the Delphes demo here. The interface incorporates a number of functions that strike me as quite useful. The screen shot below comes from the Delphes document from which the systems diagram was extracted. Portions of the graphic are difficult to read, but I will summarize the key features. You will be able to get a notion of the default interface, which, of course, can be customized by the licensee.


The results of the query high speed access through cable appear in the main display. Note that a user can select “themes” (actually a document type) and a “category”.

Each “hit” in the results list includes an extract from the most relevant paragraph in the source document that matches the query. In this example, the query terms are not matched exactly. The Delphes system can understand “fuzzy” notions and use them to find relevant documents. Key word indexing systems typically don’t have this functionality. With a single click, the user can launch a second query within the subset. This is generally known as “search within results.” Many search systems do not make this feature available to their users.

Notice that a link is available so the user can send the document with one-click to a colleague. The hit also includes a link to the source document. A link is provided so the user can jump directly to the next relevant paragraph in a hit. This feature eliminates scrolling through long documents looking for results. Finally, the hit provides a count of the number of relevant paragraphs in a source document. A long document with a single relevant paragraph may not be as useful to a user as a document with a larger number of relevant paragraphs.

Based on my notes to myself about the Delphes system, I identified the following major functions of DioWeb. Forgive me if I blur some functions from the DioWeb product. I can no longer recall the boundaries of each product. Delphes, I’m confident, can set you straight if I go off track.

First, the system can perform search-and-retrieval tasks. The interface permits free text and natural language querying. The system’s ability to “understand” content eliminates the shackles of the key word Boolean search technology. Users want the search box to be more understanding. Boolean systems are powerful but not understood by most users. Delphes describes its semantic approach as using “key linguistic differentiators”. I explain these functions briefly in Beyond Search, so I won’t define each of these concepts in this essay. Delphes uses syntax, disambiguation, lemmatization, masks, controlled term lists, and automatic language recognition, among other techniques.

Second, the system can federate content from different systems and further segment processed content by document type. Concepts can be used to refine a results list. Delphes defines concepts as proper nouns, dates, product names, codes, and other types of metadata.

Third, the system identifies relevant portions of a hit. A user can see only those portions of the document or browse the entire document. A navigator link allows the user to jump from relevant paragraph to relevant paragraph without the annoying scrolling imposed by some other vendors’ approaches to results viewing.

Fourth, the system can generate a “gist” or “summary” of a result. This feature extracts the most important portions of each hit and makes them available in a report. The system’s email link makes it easy to send the results to a colleague.

Fifth, Delphes includes what it calls a “knowledge manager”. I’m generally suspicious of KM or knowledge management systems. Delphes’ implementation strikes me as a variation on the “gist” or “summary” feature. The user can add comments, save the results, or perform other housekeeping functions. A complementary “information manager” function generates a display that shows what reports a user has generated. If a user sends a report to a colleague, the dashboard display of the “information manager” makes it possible to see that the colleague added a comment to a report. Again, this is useful housekeeping stuff, not the more esoteric functions described in my earlier summary of the Entopia approach.

What Can We Learn?

My goal for Beyond Search was to write a study with fewer than 200 pages, minimizing the technical details to focus on “what’s in it for the licensee”. Beyond Search is going to run about 250 pages, and I had to trim some information that I thought was important to readers. Delphes is an interesting vendor, and it offers a system that has a number of high-profile, demanding licensees in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere.

The reason I wanted to provide this brief summary — fully unauthorized by the company — was to underscore what I call the visibility problem in behind-the-firewall search.

Reading the information from the major consultancies and pundits who “cover” this sector of the software business, Delphes is essentially invisible. However, Delphes does exist and offers a competitive system that can go toe-top-toe with Autonomy, Endeca, and Fast Search & Transfer. One can argue that Delphes can enhance a SharePoint environment and match the functionality of a custom system built from IBM’s (NYSE:IBM) WebSphere and Ominifind components.

What’s does this discussion of Delphes tell us?

If you rely on the consultants and pundits, you may not be getting the full story. Just as I had to chop information from Beyond Search, others exercise the same judgment. This means that when you ask, “Which system is best for my requirements?” — you may be getting at best an incomplete answer. You may be getting the wrong answer.

A search for Delphes on Exalead, (NASDAQ:MSFT), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), and Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) is essentially useless. Little of the information I provide in this essay is available to you. Part of the problem is that the word Delphes is perceived by the search systems as a variant of Delphi. You learn a lot about tourism and not too much about this system.

There are two key points to keep in mind about search-and-retrieval systems:

  1. The “experts” may not know about some systems that could be germane to your needs. If the “experts” don’t know about these systems, you are not going to get a well-rounded analysis. The phrase that sticks in my mind is “bright but uninformed”. This can be a critical weak spot for some “experts”.
  2. The public Web search systems do a pretty awful job on certain types of queries. It is worth keeping this in mind because in the last few weeks, Google’s market share of Web search is viewed as a “game over” market. I’m not so sure. People who think the “game is over” in search are “bright but uninformed”. Don’t believe me. Run the Delphes query and let me know your impression of the results. (Don’t cheat and use the product names I include in this essay. Start with Delphes and go from there.)

In closing, contrast Entopia with Delphes. Both companies asserted in 2004 – 2006 similar functionality. Today, the high-profile Entopia is nowhere to be found. The lower-profile Delphes is still in business.

Make no mistake. Search is a tough business. Delphes illustrates the usefulness of focusing on a market, not lighting up the sky with marketing fireworks. I would like to ask the Delphic oracle in Greece, “What’s the future of Delphes?” I will have to wait and see. I’m not trekking to Greece to look at smoke and pigeon entrails. I do know some search engine “pundits” who may want to go. Perhaps the Delphic oracle will short cut their learning about Delphes?

Stephen Arnold, February 17, 2008


One Response to “Delphes: A Low-Profile Search Vendor”

  1. Daniel Anderson on September 12th, 2008 1:01 pm

    The company Delphes only exist on paper, and all of it’s clients did drop the diogene search engine for a more robust and stable solutions.
    if you look for “delphes technology” on google it will tell you that the site may harm your computer as it has been hacked.
    Delphes cease operation about a year ago, laying off all it’s staff, and only keeping the web site, hoping for a big contract.

    So even if the game is not over for search engine, I would say that any company worth it’s salt would make sure that big search engine like google rank them high. if it cannot get a good ranking in google, or other search engine, then maybe the company is not mature enough (technically or financially) to be trusted and it has a good reason to stay low profile.

    Daniel Anderson

    Sorry for the english, but it is not my natural language.

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