The Possibilities of iReader by Syntactica (and its underlying engine)

Was delighted to spend time today at the Minnesota headquarters of Syntactica talking about today’s release of iReader. Henry Neils CEO, Ward Johnson VP Sales and Fred Sweeny CEO of (a sister company) met with me to talk about the launch.

Instead of doing a review (since there’s already a great one done by ReadWriteWeb), I’d instead like to do what I love to do best: toss out ideas and tell you why this company and their offering needs to be looked at very, very closely if you’re a Web 2.0 developer or care about knowledge, innovation and ideas — and why the timing couldn’t be better for them to have leapt into the Web 2.0 game.

First off, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners Lee has been the top evangelist for his concept of the Semantic Web. Having data-wrapped-around-the-data you need to obtain — so machines can help us decide what’s relevant and contextual to what we’re seeking and deliver it to us and be somewhat self-aware — hasn’t worked since no one seems to be participating.

The Semantic Web is a lofty and worthwhile goal, but just like a bunch of smart people trying to determine what the taxonomies need to be within which information should reside, the Web, blogosphere and sites like Flickr and TagWorld have instead embraced the much messier tagging concept and allowed people to create folksonomies instead…and it’s exploded in use.

Guess what? People don’t organize. We throw stuff in closets and kick stuff under the bed when company comes. We search for filing systems and buy millions of organizers that often go unused.

In today’s tsunami of content that is accelerating because it can (storage costs falling, bandwidth increasing, computing horsepower growing more robust by the year) and coupled with (OH MY GOD!) even MORE coming with all the user generated content…there is no human way to gather, track or even hope to match data to data and stay abreast of some concept or create, innovate or invent new things.

Today I track hundreds of blogs and dozens of traditional news sites. I emptied my news aggregator this morning before breakfast by skimming articles and collecting the ones I choose to delve into later on…but there are now 596 articles there for me to read skim. But what if there are jewels in the areas I care about posted by a brand new blogger that I don’t track? What if that blogger is a Professor at University of Oxford and is the world authority on a subject I care deeply about?

iReader is a web browser plug-in that can quickly abstract a hyperlink on a page and tell you what the concepts are on the linked-to page so you don’t have to go there…or choose to leap out to it. Sounds simple and it’s cool for certain, but what I learned about today was more about what’s going on under-the-covers which, most interestingly, is available to developers via their API…

…and this is where it gets interesting.

Since I can’t possibly look at all the blogger’s out there, I’ve become quite fond of the memetrackers like Techmeme, Tailrank, Megite and Topix. They really help me stay abreast of the top conversations in the blogosphere — and find bloggers that I might end up adding to my aggregator if they add a unique perspective — but for the same reason I’m not a big fan of Digg or Newsvine, I’m more interested in what thought leaders post vs. what everyone happens to think.

But memetrackers’ algorithms look at blog juice: how many bloggers link to a blogger, are doing trackbacks to a given post, and I’m not sure (but would guess) that there are additional weights given to major publications, certain authorities, government figures or senior executive bloggers so a particular post bubbles up to the top on a memetracker page.

So let’s get back to that Professor at Oxford…the world authority. If she just started blogging and had zero blog juice — or had yet to be added to the list by the memetrackers — how would I know that the world’s authority was weighing in on a concept I cared deeply about? The answer is I wouldn’t unless I happened upon her blog by searching in, say, Technorati or even searching on some string in Google. The problem is that these are brute force methods and I’ve never been able to discover new ideas, new perspectives or informative thought leadership with just search.

So how could Syntactica help? In their “How it Works” section under “Developers” it says in part:

Unlike conventional search-and-retrieval programs, Syntactica does not simply match strings of letters to other strings of letters in an index. It analyzes concepts in the context of the sentence structures in which the words reside. To take a simple example, a concept will have a different weight if it contains a noun than if it contains a modifier. Syntactica takes into account far more complex aspects of English grammar than the part of speech in which the words are used to determine if a concept is relevant or not.

Concepts. All ideas start with concepts and there’s just too much information out there — and more being delivered by the second — and humans can’t keep up. If what I talked about in this post is true, then a tool like Syntactica could help us make sense of it all:

Disruption, creation and innovation spring forth from seeing unmet needs, patterns, mixing together elements from multiple sources, creating new and innovative products and services from unique combinations or methods and yes, accidents. According to Pink, high value innovation will be delivered by those who can see and think differently (needless to say that I found Pink’s book pretty validating on how my brain is wired and that I’m not just some guy going off on tangents all the time…and with far too many Categories on his blog).

How can we see things differently and help kickstart creativity and innovation through enhanced conceptual understanding? If you have an unlimited amount of time to search (and even know how to find what is out there) there’s a possibility you could locate all of the relevant thought leaders around a specific concept, parse all their writings and try to match concepts.

This is a classic forest-or-the-trees problem that developers and product creators love to tackle. Especially when it comes to inventing the future, it’s really, really hard to stand back and first look at concepts and those of us out here learning, innovating, and trying to move forward by mixing and matching concepts to solve problems need help.


Have you seen the mashup of Google Maps, the Chicago Crime database at They put the two together with a Web front-end…and the result is a very high value mashup that’s of real value to the citizens of Chicago.

The Internet-as-a-platform is growing stronger by the day. More and more companies are offering API’s into their core functionality. Many of us have marveled at the explosion of widgets that tap into the API’s of hundreds of Web hosted application/service. We also know about the enabling tools at our fingertips that allow each of us to become a sort of editor/publisher/journalist to gather relevant content for our audience to view. Some examples include Squidoo (create a lens but it’s keyword-centric) and Rollyo (roll your own search engine for the sites you want your readers to search within) but they’re brute force in their approach.

Imagine now building Web application that points the Syntactica engine at a search engine or other body of knowledge and returns the key concepts indexed by site! With other approaches, you’d get all the Oxford Professor’s posts potentially…even the one when baby barfed on her sweater that isn’t germane to her world authority on the subject in which you care deeply.

Imagine building the next great memetracker that actually tracks the meme (or cultural concept) itself instead of just the conversation led by the one with the most blog juice. I’d love to have a concept tracker that would let me input a concept and let me see EVERY post out there — including by the Professor at Oxford who is brand new to blogging — summarized, abstracted and displayed allow further refinement of the concept itself or just allow me to see how many people care about the concept or what the memes around surrounding it.

After my time with these guys today, I believe that the imagination of developers is what’s going to explode use of Syntactica. While iReader is great and they have a nice roadmap of tweaks and features on the way — as well as many of their own ideas to expand the footprint — you’re going to be hearing alot from these folks…especially as developers grab hold of this engine.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.