Book of Odds, With Book Deal in Tow, Is Updating Website to Help Consumers Make Sense of Risks in Everyday Life

9/13/10Follow @xconomy

The Book of Odds isn’t betting its future on any one thing, and founder and president Amram Shapiro see that as one of its strengths.

“A lot of websites and startups are one-trick ponies,” Shapiro says. “Everything really has to work or pretty much they’re out of it. We think of ourselves as a 10- or 20-trick pony.”

Those tricks include a website, data service, gaming outlet, book franchise, and risk management tool (it’s just recently started working on the last three). Last year, the Boston-based startup came out of a roughly three-year stealth mode, to roll out its destination website. BookofOdds.com has close to half a million “odds” statements, based on data its staff has pulled from sources like government agencies and surveys. It frames each probability statement with the geography and time frame that the number refers to, the source of the data, and definitions of the terms within. A random example: The odds that a U.S. female 20 or older eats cheese at least once a day are 1 in 3.56.

Its content hinges on semantic technology, supplied by another Boston-area startup, Cambridge Semantics, which helps form relationships among a slew of facts and data. The Book of Odds then takes the information stored in the relational databases to populate its consumer-facing website with the odds statements. The semantic technology ascribes metadata—information about the data—to each statement, so the information within can be pulled apart and reworked for other statements.

Another fun factoid: The odds a female Internet user 18 or older will consider the person she is dating her boyfriend or girlfriend after three to five dates are 1 in 12.5.

As much fun as the random facts about subjects from food to death to dating can be, Shapiro sees his Web service ultimately as a source of measuring risk and a tool for connecting people with information to help improve their odds in areas of their lives like health, careers, and investing. So his team has been building a number of improvements to the site, in a closed beta version, designed to bring greater meaning to the numbers and sources it provides.

“It’s about taking our unique information, and making it very, very easy to find,” he says.

At present, the factoids are all accessible via a simple search bar on the company’s home page, where users plug in a key word (I used “cheese” and “boyfriend” for the statements above). They can filter their results pages through a number of relevant key words, the date of the odds statement, and the likelihood that an event will happen, but Shapiro hopes the impending improvements will give greater context and meaning to the often quirky statistics.

He gave me a sneak peek of the upcoming features, which he expects to go live on the site in a month or so. They frame the odds statements with more specifics, graphics, and comparison data. For example, under the healthcare umbrella, a user can search for the odds of a person getting diagnosed with cancer in a given year. Once they get that answer, they can … Next Page »

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