Semantic technologies have gotten a lot of attention as the potential next leap forward in search, and Microsoft’s acquisition of semantic startup Powerset for more than $100 million didn’t hurt either.
Now a semantic search company called Cognition Technologies has raised an additional $2.7 million in funding. Chief executive Scott Jarus is happy to tout Cognition’s technology (more on that in a second) and to praise the competition (which also includes Hakia, Expert System and others), but interestingly, he also argues that if semantic technology is going to make a real “quantum leap,” it’s going to require a bigger roll-up eventually by Microsoft, Google or another major tech company.
“We’re all heading in the same direction, but we’re driving different cars, none of which will be able to make it to the end by themselves,” Jarus says.
The Culver City, Calif. startup is approaching the space a bit differently than Powerset. For one thing, it isn’t trying to create a search engine per se, but rather sell its semantic technology to other companies. You can already see Cognition Technologies in action at Lexis-Nexis Concordance (a litigation database), Medline (the database of the National Institutes of Health) and elsewhere.
The technology is different, too, Jarus says. Where Powerset focuses on the structure of a search query, Cognition Technologies has been building a “semantic map” — basically, a big dictionary that allows Cognition Technologies’ products to actually understand the meaning of the words in your query, and therefore understand what you’re actually asking for. The startup has even published a white paper comparing its technology to Powerset’s. In the paper’s first example (and others), a Wikipedia search for “Who won Wimbledon in 1956?” returned more relevant results through Cognition. GigaOM also compared the two companies recently in “a semantic search shoot-out” and found that Cognition does better when “hardcore semantic parsing” is required — in other words, when the query is particularly complicated.
To improve its offerings, Cognition is developing a new semantic parser, which should beef up its ability to understand the structure of different queries. Cognition Technologies has been around for more than 20 years, but only took its current form about five years ago. Since then it has raised a total of around $6 million. The current round includes Draper Associates, Fingerhut Ventures and a personal investment from Jarus himself.