Inform Technologies Ingests $15 Million from Spark Capital

1/25/08Follow @wroush

Boston-based Spark Capital has invested $15 million in Inform Technologies, a New York-based startup whose software powers the content-aggregation features of major news websites such as CNN.com, the two organizations announced Wednesday.

Privately held Inform was founded in 2004 and announced its first publishing customers, including the Washington Post, in 2006. The company’s software organizes customers’ content—an archive of current and historical news articles, for example—into topic pages, lists of related articles, and other features designed to lead readers deeper into a website, and spend more time browsing, before they move on.

Topic pages and related-articles lists have long been a staple of Web publishing, but often required regular manual intervention. “Now this is all done by machine, by informed algorithms,” says Peter Longo, Inform’s chief sales officer. “And because it’s done by machine, it’s infinitely scalable. Publishers working with us have the ability to put hundreds or thousands of items into our tagging and scoring engine,” which identifies key topics and entities and can create new pages based on those topics on the fly.

CNN.com content aggregated by InformFor an example of Inform’s system in action, open a new browser tab, type http://topics.cnn.com/topics/, and then complete the URL with any common name or subject: say, britney_spears or iraq_war. Inform instantly assembles a page on that subject from the vast archives of CNN and other Time Inc. publications, including recent stories and videos and dozens of links to older articles.

“We have been thinking about various ways technology and next generation ad networks can help publishers. We believe Inform is going to play a big role in this opportunity,” Spark Capital partner Bijan Sabet wrote on his blog yesterday. “All of this [semantically tagged] content is rich, relevant and their readers love it. And it creates new valuable advertising inventory for the publisher.”

Spark’s investment is Inform’s first infusion of venture capital; the company has been supported up to now by investments from the Stephens Media Group and the Oklahoma Publishing Company. Longo says Inform was attracted to working with Spark by “The opportunity to work with Santo [Politi, Spark founder and general partner]—who is a brilliant guy, very engaging, and has a great vision for what we can do. And Spark seems to know the space very well.”

Indeed, Spark’s portfolio consists almost entirely of Internet companies with innovative approaches to content distribution and social media, such as Buzzwire, Tumblr, KickApps, Me.dium, Veoh, and Next New Networks. The company closed fundraising for its second, $360 million fund in this area last summer.

Longo says Inform will use the capital to continue development of its core tagging software, expand its team, and introduce new products. “Once you have organized content, there are all sorts of things you can do with it, so you’re going to see more products coming out from us in the next two years,” Longo says. “We’ll also continue to go after established publishers—we have 100 customers right now but there are thousands of publishers we want to work with.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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