Tag Archive for: Watson

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Benefits of Semantic Natural Language Search for E-Commerce

BY EasyAsk CEO Craig Bassin

How this paradigm shift will change Web and mobile e-commerce forever

Advancement in communication and technology over the last two decades has been dramatic, and the way people consume information has evolved in parallel. Not long ago, people turned to libraries, dictionaries, reference journals, books, phone books and printed newspapers for insight, but now they simply turn to “The Web.” Answering complex questions used to take hours or days – if we could figure out how to answer them at all. Now we are accustom to executing Internet searches in seconds.

ACCURACY, however, is the issue.

The next step is to provide the correct response on the very first page. To take this next step, we’ll consider some words and phrases that were once outside of mainstream vocabulary, more commonly used in academic and research circles at MIT and Stanford labs – things like Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Semantic Search (per Wikipedia: semantic search uses semantics, or the science of meaning in language, to produce highly relevant search results. In most cases, the goal is to deliver the information queried by a user rather than have a user sort through a list of loosely related keyword results.). Search will not evolve without these important concepts because even with all the great digital information available today, it still takes too long for people to find exactly what they’re searching for – whether on the Internet, on their phone, in an e-commerce store, or in a corporate applications like CRM and Business Intelligence.

It is interesting to think about where we started with search boxes – Yahoo, Excite, Netscape, to name but a few, and most recently Google, have all taught us to search using “keywords.” We know that search engines can’t understand the way we speak or think, so we had to adapt our behavior to make use of the services they provide. When we hit the search button, we hope that the algorithms, machines and logic in some distant server farm send us back a bunch of links that we can comb through to find what we are looking for. Search engines essentially provide us a starting point – lists of results – but we still have to manually navigate the final mile. We get streams of results in seconds, but it takes considerably longer to find the right thing, or often we get frustrated and stop looking. Google has learned from user interactions and are now developing semantic capabilities, and WolframAlpha takes it further by computing answers from a knowledge base of curated, structured data but still today ‘search results’ are simply a starting point to begin looking for answers.

Also, semantic search is a great step in the right direction, but it doesn’t have a full understanding of all possible responses. That’s where natural language processing completes the loop, understanding both the searcher’s intent and a deep understanding of the data to deliver the best possible response. Essentially, Semantic search provides understanding of the intent, or context, of the search. Natural Language provides knowledge both of intent AND content.

For the first time, you can have better technology than the search engine giants – who have certainly spotted this trend and are moving in the semantic direction. Recently Google shared its Knowledge Map plans. Jack Menzel, product management director at Google, in a very articulate video, questioned: “Wouldn’t it be amazing if Google could understand that the words that you use when you are doing a search, well they aren’t just words, they refer to real things in the world. That a building is a building, and an animal is an animal and that they are not just random strings of characters, and if we could understand that those words are talking about those real world things, than we could do a better job of getting you the content you want off the web…”

Google is obviously a large company and has the time and resources to integrate changes in stages, especially considering that their revenue model is still based on keyword advertising. You and the e-commerce industry do not have that luxury – we need to act now to improve the Web e-commerce search experience and to accommodate the growing number of mobile e-commerce shoppers.

Given where we are today, understanding the intent of what is being searched for has become a competitive advantage – especially when deployed in e-commerce environments. Understanding intent even helps when shoppers enter only a few keywords, because each single word carries so much value. Natural Language Processing (NLP) use techniques like relevancy, association, disambiguation and many more to understand what a shopper is actually looking for, and can deliver the most relevant options from your product catalog.

Again, semantic search can understand the searcher’s intent, but NLP understands their intent and all possible results, then processes requests and delivers the best possible results. This is an important distinction, especially for e-commerce sites, which need to present the most relevant items, even when search requests don’t match up nicely with what is in your product catalog.

Some general e-commerce industry statistics suggest that 20% of searches are now long-tail searches. A long-tail search is a more descriptive phrase that contains three or more words. It often contains a main concept, which are one or two words in length. For example, “London Olympic t-shirt under $20,” the main concept would be Olympic and the other terms can help us identify the most relevant item with the additional details. Now we can look at t-shirts from the 2012 Olympics in London and not t-shirts from 2008 in Beijing. Cost is yet another filter, but again intent is important. Keyword search will return items with ‘Olympic, t-shirt’, ‘under’ or ‘$20’ (potentially t-shirt underwear) while the searcher intent is to find any shirts under $20.

As an e-commerce retailer, you have to address long-tail searches, otherwise you will miss out on a key source of revenue and likely degrade existing traffic.

Hopefully you are beginning to see some of the benefits semantic natural language search can provide Web-based e-commerce, but more importantly you need to consider how this will support your growth into mobile e-commerce.

Since the iPhone was launched, that small screen has become an important window into the world for most users. Androids and others followed suit and smart phones have become a common entry point into e-commerce. Analysts from research firm Gartner Inc. say the shift from e-commerce to m-commerce will reach something of a tipping point by 2015. According to Gartner’s analysts, mobile applications and social media will account for 50 percent of Web sales by then. Additionally, Gartner said that e-commerce merchants will start offering “context-aware, mobile-based application capabilities that can be accessed via a browser or installed as an application on a phone” at that point. “E-commerce organizations will need to scale up their operations to handle the increased visitation loads resulting from customers not having to wait until they are in front of a PC to obtain answers to questions or place orders,” said Gene Alvarez, research vice president at Gartner, in a statement.
Additionally, because of Siri, Nuance Dragon, Google Voice Search and others, speech is now an integral way we interact with these little devices. As people become more conversational with these devices, the search terms will naturally become more descriptive. Again, with limited screen size and long-tail searches, natural language search functionality will not just be a nice feature; it will be mandatory if you want to provide the most relevant result quickly and efficiently on mobile devices. Imagine connecting to your favorite e-commerce site, hitting the microphone on your smartphone and SPEAKING, ‘ladies blue blouses under $35’ and immediately seeing your results. That’s taking e-commerce mobile.

Natural Language and Semantic Search are concepts you need to become familiar with in the next few months. If you learn how to integrate them properly, you’ll be able to provide your shoppers the right information at the right time to improve conversion rates and drive revenue. Regardless if you do or don’t, your competitors will. So… Where do YOU think your shoppers will turn the next time they pull out their iPhone?

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EasyAsk Brings Intelligence and Control Lucene/Solr Can’t Touch

Lucene/Solr is great for developers that enjoy tinkering with code as if it’s DNA and you’re working on the Captain America Super-Soldier Serum. But what if you don’t have the time or resources? What if you’re a company that cannot afford the manpower or hours needed to work on the open-source, Java-based search library? What if… what you need is a rich, mature product with the most accurate search engine on the planet?

Apache Lucene, for those who are unclear on the difference, is the library and Apache Solr is a layer of code on top of Lucene that turns it into a search platform, adding management and website APIs that are tailored for e-commerce. With Lucene/Solr you get a basic search engine, that requires a large IT staff or an army of consultants. It takes a lot of time, experience and troubleshooting to get the results you’re hoping for.

But let’s say you’ve outgrown the basic search functionality, or get frustrated having to build everything you need. And you’ve noticed how the e-commerce community has shifted to mobile sites with voice-recognition, and the abilities of open-source seem more and more limited. So wouldn’t you be tired of continuing to compete with every other e-commerce company that is trying to do the same thing with the same keyword-hampered technology? Why wouldn’t you want to stand out from the pack?

Where Lucene/Solr falls short, EasyAsk excels.

Companies like IBM, Magento, NetSuite, Infor and more have partnered with EasyAsk for a reason. The powerful Natural Language search-box and easy-to-use merchandising tools allow you to perform tasks a keyword-based software (Lucene/Solr) can’t even dream of. The intuitive site-search, dynamic navigation, and merchandising software utilizes Natural Language to increase conversion rates. It understands the intent of the search and delivers faster, more accurate results than keyword or navigation-driven softwares. The limitations you find with Lucene/Solr are simply not found with EasyAsk.

From understanding numeric units, to intelligent term relaxation, to merchandising capabilities like: Cross-Sell/Up-Sell promotions, EasyAsk has proven to bring something to the table that Lucene and Solr just can’t touch. Not to mention with EasyAsk you’re a step ahead of the game.

Take a quick look around and see which direction the technological world is headed. IBM’s Watson, Apple’s Siri, Nuance’s Dragon-Go, Panasonic’s Smart-TVs, and many more have all made the jump to a Natural Language Processing engine. It’s just a smarter way to connect with your customers.

And EasyAsk has been a leader in Natural Language for over a decade.

For example, on an EasyAsk-powered site, you can use your iPhone 4S or Android to verbally search for products on their mobile-sites. And thanks to the natural language engine that powers EasyAsk, they’ll find exactly what they’re looking for. Go to Lands’ End’s site on your phone, type-in or speak a product you’d like to see and a price constraint (i.e. Black Sleeveless Dresses for under $100) and see for yourself how powerful EasyAsk is. You’re not going to find that functionality with an open-source, keyword-based software.

Also the EasyAsk Commerce Studio puts the power back in the hands of the merchandiser. Want to add a new brand for your site, or cross-sell a couple of items? No problem, it literally takes a minute. To see what I’m talking about click here.

Look, if you want to keep trying to reinvent the wheel, go right ahead. But if you’re tired of sputtering in a Model-T and you’d rather upgrade to a search that’s better, the wave of the future, comes with merchandising capabilities that Lucene/Solr just can’t match, come take a look at EasyAsk, the Search That Means Business.

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Siri-Cized Sites With Voice-Enabled Mobile Shopping? EasyAsk Customers Are Already There

The technological world seems to be making a shift. It began with those three days in February 2011, when IBM’s Watson computer competed on Jeopardy! (By the way, the natural language super-computer trounced the shows two biggest champions!) And culminated with Apple releasing Siri in their latest model of cell phone, the iPhone 4S on October 14th, 2011.

You can feel the buzz in the air, a change in the winds, that a paradigm-shift is coming. The ability to tell your electronics what to do.

So wouldn’t it make sense that this same technology could be used by everyday consumers to shop on their smart-phones? Isn’t it logical, that the next step will be the ability to use this natural language technology to search and purchase items on your favorite website? That this technology would improve user experience, retention and increase conversion rates? Wouldn’t you want your favorite sites to be Siri-cized?

Well, if you’re a client of EasyAsk, this power is already at your fingertips… err… voice-box.

EasyAsk-powered sites such as: Lands’ End, Harbor Freight Tools, J. Jill, True Value and Coldwater Creek, are already Siri-cized. Customers of these and other EasyAsk clients can use their iPhone 4S or Android to verbally search for their products on their mobile-sites. And thanks to the natural language engine that powers EasyAsk, they’ll find exactly what they are looking for.

Now, I hear the nay-sayers, griping about the times that Siri doesn’t work as well as they want. First of all, Siri is cutting-edge technology, so of course it’s still working out a few of the kinks. But here’s where EasyAsk differs. With Siri, the options are so varied, it’s difficult for the software to search through the entire Internet to find the right answer every time. With EasyAsk, the data needed is pulled from the company’s product catalogue. So, if you’re on Lands’ End, you’re going to be searching for items Lands’ End is known for having, like swimwear, shoes, luggage, etc. If you’re on Harbor Freight Tools, you’re going to search for items they’re known for having; air compressors, engines, toolboxes or various tools. EasyAsk understands the context of your request and retrieves the right product on the first page.

This isn’t the future; it’s the present. EasyAsk sites are and have been ahead of the game, because EasyAsk has been mastering Natural Language for over a decade. Feel free to find out more here.

So go ahead, grab your iPhone 4S or Android 2.1, jump on Lands’ End and get ready for summer by shopping for a new bathing suit or try True Value and order that new grill you’ve been waiting for. It’s as simple tapping the search box, tapping the microphone, and saying what you’re looking for.

Welcome to the future.

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Oracle Welcomes ATG and Endeca, Is Your Site Welcome Too?

You’re currently a customer of Endeca. Your site has been expensive to maintain, but it has worked well enough and you see no need to make a change. Recently however, changes have been made to the company who runs your search. Changes that could affect your relationship and your ability to do business.

In October of 2011, Oracle acquired Endeca, a leading provider of unstructured data management, Web commerce and business intelligence solutions. A year before that, they acquired the Art Technology Group, Inc. (ATG), an e-commerce software platform that is one of the industry’s top-ranked, commerce solutions. Essentially packaging a search and platform duo. But… What if you don’t own both pieces of the puzzle? What if you’re an Endeca customer, but not an ATG customer? Is your site in danger? Is your business in danger?

Before Oracle acquired these pieces of technology, Endeca and ATG were open – meaning they worked cooperatively with other solutions in the market. Didn’t matter who you had for an e-commerce platform, be it Magento, IBM’s WebSphere, in-house, etc., you could still work with Endeca.

Is that still the case?

If recent history proves prophetic, then probably not. Oracle has a history of closing the proprietary loop when they acquire a company, making them a part of the Oracle stack. If you are inside that stack, then your feeling of security should be warm-and-fuzzy. But what if you’re not inside the loop? What if you’re currently using Endeca for your search and have a platform not named ATG? Will Endeca continue to fit? Should you be concerned?

If you are concerned and don’t feel like being at the mercy of Oracle, what can you do about it?

Here’s the good news:

You do have options and one of them can kill two birds with one stone: Get out from under Oracle’s thumb and upgrade your search by switching to EasyAsk. EasyAsk provides a user-friendly and cost-effective way to make complex business data accessible to anyone. With EasyAsk’s natural language engine, it’s Apple’s Siri and IBM’s Watson rolled into one best-of-breed, site-search, navigation and merchandising tool.

In other words, it’s common sense brought to search. It also happens to be platform-agnostic, easy to maintain, plus it puts the power in the hands of the merchandisers, costing far less than Endeca, and touting the lowest total cost of ownership in the business. To learn more about e-commerce search and how it can impact your site, please read our paper, The ABC’s of E-Commerce Search.

So… You’re an Endeca customer, but you are also now a customer of Oracle, the 4th largest software company in the world. Will your company get lost in the shuffle? Maybe yes, maybe no, and you’re welcome to stick around and find out, but… Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to “Find, Analyze, and Understand” that it’s time to switch to a Search That Means Business.

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Oracle Buys Endeca – Another E-Commerce Software Company to Vanish?

Endeca goes to Oracle. Now that is big news. I’ve read nine articles analyzing the acquisition and they all paint the same picture: good news for Oracle’s BI solutions; an enhanced Oracle BI architecture with Endeca’s ability to integrate unstructured data; new functionality for Oracle BI in analyzing data from Hadoop.

The consensus is clear: the Endeca acquisition was driven by the need for Oracle to expand its BI solutions and have more offerings to sell to existing Oracle customers.

But does anyone remember when Endeca was an e-commerce search company? What about that segment of their customer base? What should Endeca e-commerce customers expect?

The acquisition news is fresh, so there is little solid information beyond a few comments expecting an integration of Endeca’s search and merchandizing with Oracle’s ATG platform. Does this imply that ATG will become the primary, or even only e-commerce platform which Endeca supports? Where does this leave customers using Endeca with other e-commerce platforms (WebSphere, Magento, others)? With all the focus on the BI aspect of this announcement, I’m not sure anyone knows the answer. . . yet!

What I can tell you is this – Endeca e-commerce customers should not be surprised if they’re treated as second-class citizens. A recent study by Computer Economics found that “42% of Oracle (ORCL) customers are dissatisfied with the quality of Oracle’s support while 58% are dissatisfied with the cost of the support.” And that was for traditional Oracle customers! What about Endeca customers coming into the fold? What about Endeca SaaS customers? Who knows?

What I can tell you for certain is that EasyAsk believes in customer satisfaction. Or as Ford Motors used to say it is ‘JOB 1’. Since we spun EasyAsk from Progress Software back in ’09, we’ve made sure our ALL our customers know how important they are to us and how committed we are to making them successful.

Providing the very best search and merchandizing technology is what EasyAsk is all about. We can deploy in a fraction of the time it takes for a traditional Endeca site and typically ¼ the costs.

Our natural language based search provides dramatically better results, while our merchandizing tools are so intuitive and easy to use you can return control of your e-commerce merchandizing to the experts – your merchandizers.

This is why NetSuite, Magento and Infor were excited to partner with EasyAsk. We provide IBM Watson-like natural language functionality that is intuitive and optimized for customers and end users. With EasyAsk powering you search, when a visitor searches for a product they get the right result the first time, every time.

Congratulations to Endeca on their sale to Oracle. I’m sure they knocked it out of the park. Congratulations to Endeca’s investors and to their employees.

For Endeca’s e-commerce customers however, this might be a different story. If you are looking for best of breed search technology, remember that EasyAsk is here for you too.

Thanks for listening,
Craig

Ready to see how EasyAsk's eCommerce solution can help you? Request a demo!