Silobreaker: Sophisticated Intelligence
June 12, 2008
An Interview with Mats Bjore, Silobreaker
I met Mats Bjore at a conference seven, maybe eight years ago. The majority of the attendees were involved in information analysis. Most had worked from government entities or commercial organizations with a need for high-quality information and analysis.
Mr. Bjore and two of his dogs near his home in Sweden.
I caught up with Mats Bjore, one of the wizards behind the Silobreaker service which I profiled in my Web log, in the old town’s Café Gråmunken. Since I had visited Stockholm on previous occasions, I asked the waiter for a cheese plate and tea. No herring for me.
Over the years, I learned that Mr. Bjore shared two of my passions: high-value intelligence and canines. One of my contacts told me that his prized possession is shirt emblazoned with “Dog Father”, crafted by his military client.
Before the waitress brought our order, I asked Mr. Bjore about his interest in dogs and Sweden’s pre-occupation with herring in a mind-boggling number of guises. He laughed, and I turned the subject to Silobreaker.
Silobreaker is one of a relatively small number firms offering a combination intelligence-centric solution to clients and organizations worldwide. One facet of the firm’s capabilities stems from its content processing system. The word “search” does not adequately describe the system. Silobreaker generates reports. The other facet of the company is its deep expertise in information itself.
The full text of my conversation with Mats Bjore appears below:
Where did the idea for Silobreaker originate?
Silobreaker actually has a long history in the sense of the word Silobreaker. When I was working in the intelligence agency and later at McKinsey & Co I was amazed of the knowledge silos that existed totally isolated from each other. I saw the promise of technology to assist in unlocking those Silos, however the big names at that time, Autonomy, Verity, Convera etc failed to deliver, big time… Disappointed and waiting for the technology of the future I registered the name Silobreaker.com , more like a wish for the perfect system. A couple of years later in 2003-2004 I was approached by a team of amazing people–Per Lindh, Björn Löndahl, Jimmy Mardell, Joakim Mårlöv and Kristofer Mansson. These professionals wanted to further develop their software into an intelligence platform. In 2005 my company Infosphere and the software company Elucidon joined forces and we created Silobreaker Ltd as a joint venture. One year later we consolidated software, service and consulting to one brand–Silobreaker.
Today, Silobreaker enables the breaking down of silos built from informational, knowledge, or mental bricks and mortar.
What’s your background?
I am a former lieutenant colonel in the Swedish Army. I was detailed to the Swedish Military intelligence Agency where I founded the Open Source Intelligence function in 1993.
I am also a former musician in a group called Camping with Penguins. You know that I am a lover of dogs. Too bad you like boxers. You need to get a couple of my friends so you have a real dog. I’m just joking.
I know. I know. What are the needs that traditional search engines like Autonomy, Endeca, and Fast Search (now Microsoft) are not meeting?
Meaning and context and I would also say that traditional engines requires that you always know what to search for. You need to be an expert in your field to make to fully take advantage of the information in databases and unstructured text. With the Silobreaker technology the novice becomes an expert and the expert becomes a discoverer, It might sound like a sales pitch, but its true. Every day in my daily work I have need to jump into new areas, new industries and topics. There is no way that I can formulate keyword search nor have the time to digest 100 or a 1,000 articles that works in the mode of click and read, click and read. With Silobreaker and its technology I start very broadly and the system directly helps me to understand the context of large set of articles in different formats, from different repositories, from different topics. We call this a View 360 with an In Focus summary. Note: here’s an InFocus example provided to me after the interview.
When I search in traditional systems based on the search/ read philosophy, I spend to much time searching and reading and too little time of sense making and analysis. With Silobreaker, I directly start with that process and I create new value, for me and for my clients.
In a conversation with one of the Big Brands in enterprise search, the senior VP told me that services producing answers are “just interfaces”. Do you agree?
“Just interfaces” might be a bit harsh on the companies that actually try to provide direct answers to searches – they actually have some impressive algorithms, but to a certain extent we agree. We simply don’t think that an “answer engine” solves any real information overload problem.
If you want to know “What’s the population of Nigeria” – fine, but Wikipedia solves that problem as well. But how do you “answer” the question “What’s up with iPhone”? There are many opinions, facts, news items, and blogs “out there”. Trying to provide an “answer” to any “question” is very hard to do, maybe futile.
We always emphasize the importance of using our technology for decision-support, not to expect the system to perform the decision-making for you. The problem today is that analysts and decision-makers spend most of their time searching and far too little time learning from and analyzing the information at hand. Our technology moves the user closer to the many possible “answers” by doing much of the searching and groundwork for them and freeing up time for analysis and qualified decision-making. Note: This is a 360 degree view of news from Silobreaker provided after the interview.
There’s significant dissatisfaction among users of traditional key word search systems. What’s at the root of this annoyance?
The more information that is generated, duplicated, recycled, edited and abstracted and in combination with the rapid proliferation of “ I never use a spell checker and I write in your language with my own set of grammar”—– the need for smarter system to actually find what you are looking for will increase. In a couple of years from now, we also see the demise of the mouse and keyboard and the emergence of other means of input, the keyword approach is not just it.
Keyword based search works reasonably well for some purposes (like finding your nearest Swedish herring restaurant), but as soon as you take a slightly more analytical approach it becomes very blunt as a tool.
There is no real discovery or monitoring aspect to keyword based search. The paradox is that you’ll need to know what you’re looking for in order to discover.
Matching keywords to documents doesn’t bring any meaning to the content nor does it put the content in context for the user.
Keyword based search is a bottom-ups approach to relevance. The burden is put entirely on the user to dissect large results in order to find relevant articles, who the key players are, how they relate to each other, and other factors.
This burden creates the annoyance and “research fatigue” and as a result users rarely go beyond the first page of results – hence the desperate hunt amongst providers for PageRank, but which may have no or little bearing on the users real needs.
The intelligence agencies in many ways are the true professionals in content analysis. Why have the systems funded by IN-Q-TEL, Interpol, and MI5/MI6 not caught on in the enterprise world?
These systems are often complex and their “end solutions” are often mix of different software that is not well integrated. We already see a change with our technology. Some government customers look at our free service at Silobreaker.com and have a chance to explore how Silobreaker works without sales people hovering over them.
We want our clients to see one technology with its pieces smoothly integrated. We want the clients to experience information access that, we believe, is far beyond our competitors’ capabilities.
Intelligence agencies have often acquired systems that are too complex and too expensive for commercial enterprises. Some of these systems have been digital Potemkins. These systems provide the user with no proof about why a certain result was generated.
Now, this “black box” approach might be okay when you have a controlled content set, like on the classified side within the intelligence community. But the “real world” needs to makes sense of unstructured information here and now.
You have plus 100,000 major companies in the world, and you have 200 or so countries. Basically the need for technology solutions is the same. For me it’s totally absurd that the government complicates their systems instead of looking at what is working here and now.
Furthermore I think one the reasons that government can do complex and sometimes fruitless projects is that some agencies don’t have to make money to survive. The taxpayers will solve that.
In the commercial sector–profit and time are essential. Another factor that corporations take into account when investing in a system such factors as ease of use.
With the usually high turnover in any industry, a system must be easy to use in order to reduce training time and training costs. In some government sectors, turnover is much lower. People can spend a great deal of time learning how to use the systems. Does this match your experience?
Yes, and I agree with your analysis. I had an email exchange with the chief technical officer of a major enterprise search vendor. He asserted that social search was the next big thing. When I pointed out that social search worked when the system ingested a large amount of information, much available covertly, he argued that general social information was “good enough”? Do you agree?
No I don’t. Now we are talking about quality of the information. If you would index and cross reference XING, Facebook, Linkedin you could display fantastic displays of the connections….. However, how many of this links between people are actually true (in the sense that they actually have met or even have some common ground)?
There is a very large set of people that try to get as many connections as possible, thus diluting the value of true connections. I agree that you need a significant amount of information in order to get a baseline. You also need to validate this kind of data with reality checks in other kind of information sources – offline and online.
My main company, Infosphere, did some research into the financial networks in the Middle East, the fact-based search (ownership, shareholdings, etc) provided one picture, then you have to add the family and social connections, the view from media, then look at resident clusters and other factors. We had more than 8,000 dots ( people ) that we connected. But we were just scratching on the surface.
The graphic displays in Silobreaker are quite useful. In a general description, what are you doing to create on the fly different types of information displays?
The whole philosophy behind Silobreaker is to move away from the traditional keyword based search query which generates just page after page of headline results and forces the user into a loop of continually adjusting the query to find relevance and context.
We see the keyword-based query as a possible entry point, but the graphical search results enable the user to discover, navigate and drill down further without having to type in new keywords. No-one can imagine managing numerical data without the use of descriptive graphical representations, so why do we believe that we can handle vast quantities of textual data in any other way. Well we don’t think we can, and traditional search is proving the point emphatically. Today’s Silobreaker is just giving you a first glimpse of how we (and I’m sure others) will use graphics to bring meaning to search results.
Is Silobreaker available for on premises and for SaaS (software as a service”? What do you see as the future access and use case for Silobreaker?
That’s a good question. Let me say that Silobreaker’s business model is divided into three parts.
First, we have a free news search service that eventually will be add-supported but whose equally important role is to show-case the Silobreaker technology and function as a lead generator for the enterprise offerings.
Second, Our Enterprise Service which is due to be released in September or October 2008 is an online, real-time “clipping service” aimed at companies, banks, consultants as well as government agencies and that will offer a one-stop shop for news and media monitoring from defining what you are monitoring to in-depth content aggregation, analysis and report generation. This service will come with a SaaS facility that enables the enterprise to upload its own content and use the Silobreaker technology to view and analyze it.
Third, we offer a Technology Licensing option. This could range from a license to embed Silobreaker widgets in your own site to a fully operational local Silobreaker installation behind your firewall and customized for your purposes and for your content.
Furthermore, parts of the Silobreaker technology are available as SaaS on request.
Let’s talk about content. Most search systems assume the licensee has content. Is this your approach?
Yes and no, we can facilitate access to some content and also integrate crawling with third-party suppliers or if its very specific assist with specialty crawling.
On top of that we can, of course, integrate the fact sheets, profiles, and other content from my other venture, Able2Act.com which gives any system and any content set some contextual stability.
What are the content options that your team offers? Is it possible to merge proprietary content and the public content from the sources you have mentioned?
Yes, the ideal blend is internal and external content. And that really sets our team apart. Most of the Silobreaker group works with information as the key focus on a daily basis, sometimes 24×7 on certain projects. In other words, we are end users that keeps our ear to ground for information. Most companies out there are either tech people or content aggregators that just sell. We are both.
When you look forward, what is the importance of mobile search? Does Silobreaker have a mobile interface?
Mobile “search” is an extremely important field where traditional keyword-based search just doesn’t cut it. The small screen size of mobile devices, and limited (and sometimes cumbersome) input capabilities is just not suitable for sifting through pages of search results just to find that you need another Boolean operator and have to start all over again. We believe that users must be given a much broader 360 view of what they’re searching for in order to get to the “nugget” information faster. Silobreaker does not currently offer a mobile interface, but needless to say we’re working on it.
What are the major trends that you see emerging in the next nine to 12 months in content processing?
That’s a difficult question. I can identify several areas that seem important to my clients: Contextual processing, cross media integration, side-by-side translations, and smart visualization. Note: I have inserted a Silobreaker link view screen shot Mr. Bjore provided me after our conversation.
Silobreaker caught my attention when I saw a demonstration of the system before it was publicly available. The system has become more useful to intelligence professionals with each enhancement to the system. Compared to laundry-lists of results, the Silobreaker approach allows a person working in a time-compressed environment to size up, identify, and obtain the information needed. The system’s “smart software” shows that Silobreaker’s learning and unlearning function is part of the next generation of information tools. After accessing information with Silobreaker, I am reminded that key word search is a medieval approach to 21st century problems. Silobreaker’s ability to assist a decision maker makes it clear that technology, properly applied, becomes a force multiplier without pushing human judgment to the sidelines. In one of our conversations, Mr. Bjore drew a parallel between Silobreaker and the canines for which he and I share respect and affection. He said, “Silobreaker works like one of our dogs. Their eyes see what is in front of you, the ears hears the tone of voice, the nose smells what has happened, what is now and what’s around the corner.” I agree. Silobreaker is more than search; it’s an extension of the information envelope. Take a close look at this extraordinarily good system here.
Stephen E. Arnold, June 12, 2008