Recorded Future, With New VC Round, Seeks Fortune in Defense and Finance

5/29/12Follow @gthuang

Wish you could use the Web to make reliable predictions about the future? Not just the performance of the stock market, say, but things like, what are my business competitors planning to do in a particular field? Where in the world will there be civil unrest in the coming weeks? What military maneuvers can we expect to see from China or Iran?

These are big questions, and they require big technology to answer accurately. Now a Boston-area startup is building a business around providing those answers to big customers, starting with government agencies and financial institutions. The company has been pretty quiet so far—but let’s just say it has been listening carefully.

Recorded Future, based in Cambridge, MA (with offices also in Sweden and the DC area), has just started talking about its plans. Last week, the two-year-old company announced a $12 million venture financing round from Balderton Capital, Google Ventures, Atlas Venture, and In-Q-Tel, bringing its total funding to $20 million. And it has just released new software that lets defense and intelligence analysts track relevant happenings around the world via Web sources. The company has just under 30 employees, about a half-dozen of them in Cambridge.

But does this startup have a snowball’s chance in hell of solving such difficult (and serious) problems? After all, data experts have been trying for over a decade to connect the dots on the Web for applications in defense, counterterrorism, and finance. There have been big ideas and efforts involving things like the “deep Web,” the “semantic Web,” and the “global brain.” Not much of commercial value has come of these yet. But we’re starting to see companies make headway in areas like social media analytics, Web monitoring, sentiment analysis, and information discovery.

To gauge Recorded Future’s chances, you should know something about its founder and CEO. Christopher Ahlberg (left) is a Swedish native who co-founded the business intelligence firm Spotfire based on his PhD work in data visualization and analysis. He moved to Boston in 1997 when Atlas invested in the company (seems to be a trend for Atlas companies). After TIBCO bought Spotfire for $195 million in 2007, Ahlberg stayed on for a couple of years and started thinking about his next project.

Spotfire helped business analysts and executives make sense of spreadsheets and other structured data. But Ahlberg thought, “What could we do if we think of the Web as the data source, instead of structured databases?” As he explains, “The Web was becoming such a dramatic place. It has so many more signals about what will happen on planet Earth than anything else.”

So here’s how it works. You enter a query about a place (Syria, say), a time frame (next week), and the type of event or information you’re looking for (who’s talking about Syria, or which world leaders are traveling there). Then Recorded Future’s software scours tens of thousands of sources on the Web, … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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