Greek scientists blaze way in solving Internet questions

In a tiny office with just a couple of computers and a coffee machine, the firm known as i-sieve, set up in 2004 by a group of researchers at the National Center for Scientific Research (NCSR) called «Democritos,» the fate of a Hollywood director has been decided, a Mexican advertising campaign for a deodorant has been changed and the discovery made that Adidas wasted 200 million dollars at the World Cup soccer tournament in Germany. The firm, i-sieve technologies, is a Democritos spin-off company whose researchers have developed content-filtering technology to tune into the opinions of millions of people from all corners of the earth who use the Internet for everything from products and services to candidates for the leadership of the PASOK party. The job assigned to i-sieve is to use artificial intelligence to analyze the content of websites. These online media analysis methods are based on an innovative system of thematically organizing Internet content developed at the Software and Knowledge Engineering Laboratory at Democritos. «In effect, this is an algorithm which we train to search the Web for what interests us and to classify it,» explained Costas Handrinos, the director of i-sieve. A typical project is their input to MedIEQ, which reviews and controls the accredited or filtered medical websites. «About 80 percent of Internet users around the world visit medical sites and 40 percent of these people say the information they obtain affects their final decisions regarding their treatment,» said Evangelos Karkaletsis, one of the co-founders of i-sieve. «As a result, the information they get from the Internet is important; someone has to guarantee the reliability of these pages. The data that is valid now could, in the next few seconds, change as the content of the site changes. This is where we come in. We have developed specialized engines to search for the medical content of websites on the basis of specifications set by doctors. The objective is cooperation between search engines so that the results are linked to the credibility of a site.» The company’s biggest customers are foreign advertising firms (mostly members of the multinational Interpublic Group) that interpret prevailing trends among Internet users for corporate clients and advertising campaigns. «The system can provide a real-time view of various aspects of the Internet (special interest sites, blogs, forums, chat rooms and so on) and pinpoint references of interest to each search and to classify them automatically (for example, positive, negative, neutral),» explained Giorgos Paliouras, a Democritos researcher and co-founder of i-sieve. It is something like a passive opinion poll, as on these sites users express their views spontaneously and these are monitored by the algorithm. One job was for a major Hollywood studio. «We investigated trends regarding a top director’s latest film. We found that users blamed him because the film had flopped. There was a very negative buzz about him on the Internet. The data we collected persuaded the studio to stop working with the director.» Before the World Cup in Germany in 2006, Adidas had spent 200 million dollars for exclusive television advertising – no other firm would be linked to this major sporting event. At that time the ratio of Internet searches on Adidas and Nike was 3:10. When the tournament was over, it was up to 7:10. «Was it worth 200 million dollars? Considering that Nike swept the Internet with just one videoclip of Ronaldinho, without paying even a cent, probably not,» said Thomas Biziliotis, an Internet advertising analyst.