Google has a new challenger to its AdSense platform, courtesy of semantic software maker Expert System.
Expert System, which makes software that interprets information in text, has launched Cogito Semantic Advertiser, a tool that, when paired with Expert's semantic search engine, processes the meaning of text to ensure that an ad's placement is relevant to its assigned Web pages.
Expert System is the latest vendor trying to nibble at Google's search advertising market share by offering an alternative to Google AdSense, which uses keyword frequency to place ads. Another upstart, Proximic, debuted earlier in 2008 to attack Google on this front, but Proximic leverages a contextual ad-based approach without semantics.
So, what problem is Expert System trying to solve? J. Brooke Aker, CEO of Italy-based Expert System's U.S. subsidiary, showed me in a demo how Google's AdSense program will occasionally place misleading or inappropriate ads for certain articles.
For example, next to a New York Times science story on a jaguar, the Google AdSense algorithm picked out ads for Jaguar automobiles. In another article on an airline disaster, AdSense showed ads about low airfare rates for vacations. The algorithm didn't intend to provide results in poor taste, of course, and neither did Google's human engineers.
The problem is that AdSense relies on keyword frequency but doesn't drill down into the semantics-the meaning in the words. Cogito Semantic Advertiser attempts to go further by using semantic intelligence to analyze the text on each page and ensure that ads are placed appropriately to increase click-through rates.
Semantic search, also used by now Microsoft-owned Powerset, Hakia, Zoomix and Yedda, looks at how words in a sentence relate to one another and tries to understand the context of keywords. Terms with several meanings require semantic analysis of the other words around them for context.
Asher told me Cogito Semantic Advertiser understands content based on four key methodologies: studying the morphology of words; looking at parts of speech; sentence logic, or the reduction of sentences to subject, verb and object; and disambiguation, which in the case of the jaguar story paired with the Jaguar car ad would determine whether or not the text referred to a car or an animal.
Cogito Semantic Advertiser also provides details on actual use of specific Web sites, so companies can tailor their messages and coordinate the timing of ad placements.
For example, if users are reading articles about fuel efficiency during a specific time frame, Cogito Semantic Advertiser can provide these details so a hybrid vehicle manufacturer can tailor its advertising budget accordingly.
Asher told me Expert System plans to sell Cogito Semantic Advertiser, priced between $100,000 and $200,000 depending on implementation size requirements, to big media houses and publications.
I like what Expert and others of its ilk are trying to do in terms of the technological approach. Indeed, finding AdSense ads on vacations next to articles on Hurricane Katrina has got to be unsettling.
However, the big question is whether or not big media houses and others that would buy Cogito Semantic Advertiser are sick enough of Google yet to go with an unproven company.
Like it or not, Google is to search keywords what Microsoft is to desktop operating systems. If you go for Google, you have to know that you're at the company's mercy. Are advertisers and publishers ready for an alternative? That remains to be seen.