IBM Buys Vivisimo Allegedly for Its Big Data Prowess

April 25, 2012

Big data. Wow. That’s an angle only a public relations person with a degree in 20th century American literature could craft. Vivisimo is many things, but a big data system? News to me for sure.

IBM has been a strong consumer and integrator of open source search solutions. Watson, the game show winner, used Lucene with IBM wrapper software to keep the folks in Jeopardy post production on their toes.

vivisimo search

A screen shot of the Vivisimo Velocity system displaying search results for the RAND organization. Notice the folders in the left hand panel. The interface reveals Vivisimo’s roots in traditional search and retrieval. The federating function operates behind the scenes. The newest versions of Velocity permit a user to annotate a search hit so the system will boost it in subsequent queries if the comment is positive. A negative rating on a result suppresses that result.

I learned that IBM allegedly purchased Vivisimo, a company which I have covered in my various monographs about search and content processing. Forbes ran a story which was at odds with my understanding of what the Vivisimo technology actually does. Here’s the Forbes’ title: “IBM To Buy Vivisimo; Expands Bet On Big Data Analytics.” Notice the phrase “big data analytics.”

Why do I point out the “big data” buzzword? The reasons include:

  • Vivisimo has a clustering method which takes search results and groups them, placing similar results identified by the method in “folders”
  • Vivisimo has a federating method which, like Bright Planet’s and Deep Web Technologies’, takes a user’s query and sends the query to two or more indexing systems, retrieves the results, and displays them to the user
  • Vivisimo has a clever de-duplication method which makes the results list present one item. This is important when one encounters a news story which appears on multiple Web sites.

According to the write up in Forbes, a “real” news outfit:

IBM this morning said it has agreed to acquire Vivisimo, a Pittsburgh-based provider of big data access and analysis tools.

Okay, but in Beyond Search we have documented that Vivisimo followed this trajectory in its sales and marketing efforts since the company opened for business in 2000. In fact, the Wikipedia write up about Vivisimo says this:

Vivisimo is a privately held enterprise search software company in Pittsburgh that develops and sells software products to improve search on the web and in enterprises. The focus of Vivisimo’s research thus far has been the concept of clustering search results based on topic: for example, dividing the results of a search for “cell” into groups like “biology,” “battery,” and “prison.” This process allows users to intuitively narrow their search results to a particular category or browse through related fields of information, and seeks to avoid the “overload” problem of sorting through too many results.

Recently Vivisimo was pushing the concept of “information optimization.” I am not sure what this phrase means. Perhaps the phrase is a synonym for “big data.” Seems a stretch to me. Vivisimo also, like MarkLogic, morphed into an enterprise search vendor and then, like Coveo, changed instantly into a vendor of customer support systems. Along the way, Vivisimo presented itself to some US government agencies as a systems integrator. A couple of the large scale deployments of the Vivisimo system lit up my radar as darned exciting. Sorry, no details in a free blog post.

Now let’s think about what IBM may be doing with a clustering and federating system? I think IBM could fix up the lousy clustering functions in products such as FileNet. I think IBM could use Vivisimo’s technology to improve the search function on the Web site. I think IBM could use Vivisimo technology to refine the outputs of Lucene search system which is deployed in a number of IBM products.

However, I do not get the “big data” angle. No, not at all. Search systems which make sense of flows of data from social media, intelligence monitoring systems, and various types of specialized unstructured information systems come from outfits like Digital Reasoning, Ikanow, Palantir, and a handful of other firms.

My view is that IBM is getting back into the walled garden business in an effort to sell specialized functions to customers who are not happy with IBM’s existing line up of solutions. It is possible that IBM can bolt Vivisimo to Cognos, but SPSS already contains some text processing capabilities. Anyone remember Clementine? The i2 Group’s technology is not really “big data.”

I have someone monitoring news of this deal. If anything substantive turns up, we will update this post. For now, the IBM Vivisimo deal seems to be about “big data.” If true, the assertion is one that does not match what I know about Vivisimo’s systems and methods. We are often wide of the mark here in Harrod’s Creek, but I am struggling to see how Vivisimo contributes in the same way that Digital Reasoning or even DataStax does in the search sector.

The BMW dealers in Pittsburgh will be happy. Hopefully one of the founders will be relieved of manual script editing duties now that IBM is the boss.

Stephen E Arnold, April 25, 2012

Sponsored by PolySpot


2 Responses to “IBM Buys Vivisimo Allegedly for Its Big Data Prowess”

  1. Charlie Hull on April 26th, 2012 4:35 am

    The ‘Big Data’ tagline perked my interest too. It seems that every big software company has to go shopping for a smaller search company these days, not necessarily for the core search functions, but to be seen to be keeping up with the Big Data bandwagon.

  2. FRANK BILOTTO on April 26th, 2012 10:39 am

    Watch out for Deep Web Technologies to be sold next. Undervalued company and great technology. Ripe for acquisition.