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

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including news outlets, blogs, social media such as Twitter, and government filings. It uses natural language processing algorithms in five languages—English, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Spanish—to make sense of all the content, figure out which parts are relevant (and reliable), and triangulate where and when events of interest are happening. The software is particularly sensitive to mentions of specific dates and time frames (like “next Tuesday”). It then serves up the information via an interface that includes things like tailored news feeds and interactive maps.

The firm has some broad similarities to other Boston-area efforts: Bluefin Labs, which is trying to make sense of social media around TV; Crimson Hexagon, which does Web analysis for business intelligence; Lexalytics, which analyzed Wikipedia entries to help its software make sense of conversations on the Web; and even Wolfram Alpha, the massive project led by Stephen Wolfram to create a system that can answer any question by “computing” it from a large knowledge base. And outside Boston, there are companies with related efforts such as Evri, Palantir, Quid, Wavii, and bigger firms like SAS and IBM.

Recorded Future makes money from subscriptions to its software. For now, the company is working with a targeted set of customers—hedge funds, trading firms, the U.S. Department of Defense, and government agencies of the three-letter variety. As for privacy issues, the company’s Web service “does not go beyond any passwords,” Ahlberg says, and the firm doesn’t touch Facebook data. It’s still too early to talk about revenue growth, but he says, “This year has been a good year.”

The company certainly faces challenges ahead. For one thing, the data set it’s dealing with is “depressingly big,” Ahlberg says. (Can we start calling the field of big data “depressingly big data”?) For another, it will only go as far as its predictions and analytics are accurate. (You can check out some sample results in finance here.)

Nevertheless, Ahlberg says the company has a “terrific business” even with just its current class of customers. Longer term, the plan is to build tools that anyone ranging from a journalist to a retail executive could use to gather personalized information about certain fields, topics, or competitors. “We build software to help analysts make better decisions,” he says. “Ultimately we want to be an analytics company.”

It sounds like Recorded Future is eventually gunning for the likes of Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters—media conglomerates that provide business data to professionals. An ambitious goal, to be sure, but the company’s chief sounds confident. “Over time,” Ahlberg says, “we can do things that seriously disrupt what these guys are up to.”

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