A couple of weeks ago I got to talk with Steve Levine, the founder of Transparansee, a neat technology that lives on top of structured search. The model is to sell it to other sites as a custom install. Think of it as a smart layer of search on top of database-driven applications like dating, home or car buying, or, in the example Steve took me through, Fodor’s.
Transparansee’s “Discovery Search Engine” seeks to address the “stupid computer” problems which plague most structured databases. You most likely have experienced some variant of this: you put in a set of parameters meant to find just what you are looking for – for example, on Fodor’s, you want French bistros in Chelsea priced at $35 with a food rating of 20 or above – and you get no results, or only one or two. You have a sneaking suspicion that the results are missing an entire set of possibilities which are “close enough” to what you want, but you’ve been limited by the parameters you chose – if you open it up too much, you get a bunch of stuff you don’t want. What to do?
Transparensee uses “fuzzy search” algorithms to scour a database and offer on the fly weighting based on any parameter you choose. Presto, what you want to see is at hand. It’s hard to describe, but an “aha” when you see it in action. For example, there may be the perfect French bistro for you, but because it’s one block away in another section of town, it does not get found. With Transparansee, you’d see it at the top of the list, because it matches on so many of the other weights.
This is powerful stuff when you think about it, and it solves a core database search issue, at least for me: you know there is the right answer for the query you are entering, but damned if it isn’t escaping you, due to the blunt nature of structured search. Think of such a tool for Expedia, or Lexis Nexis, for example. No, I can’t point you to examples quite yet, but the site has some that you can peruse via PDF files.
It sort of reminds me of collaborative filtering, but for more types of datasets. After all, it’s hard to imagine a collaborative filtering application for home buying – “people who bought this home, also bought these homes…”.
I asked Steve what his plans were for the technology, and he said “to prove it out with as many clients as possible.” Is he open to Transparensee finding a home at one of the majors, or does he want to become the Swizerland of structured search? Too early to tell, Levine said. He’s still in early startup mode. But this looks promising, and I hope the idea spreads.