April 07, 2008
MetaCarta Moves into Digital Publishing with GeoSearch News
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

MetaCarta Moves into Digital Publishing with GeoSearch News

by Susan Smith

GeoSearch News is a new geographic search engine announced by MetaCarta, Inc., that displays current news on a map. GeoSearch News indexes more than 1,400 news sources from around the world and locally every hour in addition to direct feeds from the Associated Press and Reuters. Users can access a single site where they can find out what is happening at that moment in any geographic location in the world.

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This is MetaCarta’s first foray into digital publishing, yet they are experiencing strong growth in that area with customers such as YourStreet, Fox Interactive Media, and Boston.com. The market runs the gamut from an online media outlet like Boston.com to proprietary services such as Factiva or Thomsen. Until recently, MetaCarta has been known for its products in the government public sector community, particularly in the area of intelligence and military strategic planning and energy customers such as Chevron and Shell. The company has grown to approximately 70 employees with 50 customers including new customers in the digital publishing arena.

Rick Hutton, vice president of content services for MetaCarta, said MetaCarta expects a lot of growth in the energy sector.

Aimed at the consumer market, GeoSearch News “will help the publisher make their unstructured content actionable from the geographic standpoint,” Hutton explained. “The big problem has been publishers who have lots of unstructured content have not been able to get the geography to be actionable or usable without having people go through it manually or without applying keyword basic type engines that would do feature extraction and find the place names that are most common to anyone as general expressions. What our technology allows you to do is have a computer read through text more like a human would, in that it recognizes more geographic references than any other
technology out there. It is then able to disambiguate those references, relate them to the context of the remainder of the document that that reference is taken from, then relate each geographic reference to a specific latitude and longitude. Again, we unlock the rich geographic references in that content.”

Once that has been accomplished the publisher can do the following:

Dynamic mapping – with GeoSearch News it is very easy to take the geographic references and plot them on a map in real time. An example of that is the application service MetaCarta provides to Reuters.com. “We’re processing Reuters International news stories as they become available on a minute to minute basis,” said Hutton. “When someone goes to one of their appropriate pages and it has one of our news map services on there, they get a map that dynamically presents the stories from the last 24 hours. And in one minute you’ll see the latest story that just came in.”

Location focused alerts applications, or “local alerts” – MetaCarta has implemented this application with a couple of newspaper sites. It allows the publisher to have a service for users who want an update when there are stories about a particular region, city or neighborhood. They want to know when stories are published about their neighborhood, for example. You can identify the neighborhood either by typing in a placename or by focusing the map on a specific neighborhood. “The nice thing is it filters out the stories that the user doesn’t care about, such as headlines, news updates, that then don’t go into your inbox. You just get an
alert when there is a story pertinent to your area.”

This seems on the surface a lot like “Google Alerts,” however, the filtering capability is much more robust so that you are not receiving non-pertinent information mixed in with pertinent information.

Search applications – The search application of GeoSearch News is different from that of Google or Yahoo, in that it is exclusively geographically based. MetaCarta’s entity extractors and search tools combine technology and data, and identify geographic references in unstructured text using a natural language processing capability in sophisticated computational linguistics. “This allows the computer to see every expression,” said Hutton. “That could be a geographic reference based on a few words, and looking at words that precede it and follow it to see if it makes sense contextually. The computer pulls it out as a candidate before reading
through the rest of the document.” For real estate or classified ads, or general news about an area, this can be enormously helpful to both individuals and business people.

According to the press release, with GeoSearch News, users can specify their place-of-interest by entering a place name in a text box or panning/zooming a map to a desired place or region. Users can refine their search by simply repositioning the map. Search results are presented in order of relevance as determined by a combination of keyword(s) and the specified geography.

Metadata driven – GeoSearch News uses metadata to drive dynamic content presentations. When a person comes to a website, they find a story about an area they want. “Instead of only presenting them with other stories about that category, such as a business news story, if they care about what’s going on in that area, we can also facilitate the presentation of dynamic content based on the geography,” said Hutton. “Geographic references can be very implicit. There could be a baseball park where kids play where someone was arrested for drugs. If someone wants to provide content based on where it is, since we plot it as an xy point on a map, we would
get that content, even if the person didn’t mention a particular town.” Content assets can be reused.

“Once the system has a geographical reference we run it through our geographic data module (GDM), and it further disambiguates the geographic references and ultimately matches it up with a gazetteer of 10 million placenames so that we can nail it down to a specific lat long,” Hutton explained. The combination of GeoSearch News technology, with the data that looks at geographic areas from the standpoint of weather, crime, and other specific areas acquired from customers and business partners, refines the context for geographic and keyword search, generating alerts, current news and collaboration of geographically relevant information.

“One of the things the web has done is decentralize publishing and created an explosion of publishers,” noted Hutton. “You used to have to subscribe to the local papers if you wanted local information. Today you can find that information all over the place. What the web doesn’t do for you is filter the news.”

The ability of GeoSearch News to filter out what people aren’t interested in and filter in what people are interested in geographically is very powerful for Boston.com or other news organizations. A company like Factiva is aggregating loads of content publishers’ information, providing two things: content and tools. The tools are what allow the users to mine the content, according to Hutton.

MetaCarta remains “map agnostic,” and can plot geographic references in the news stories on a fully featured Google map. For those who are planning a trip, making a real estate purchase, or just looking for a broader perspective on a community or place on the planet, GeoSearch News could be a valuable tool.

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