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New IT company aims to increase speed of Internet, database searches

Searching for success

Thursday, June 28, 2001

By Michael Kolber, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

For inventors of a technology that labels clusters of information, Vivisimo's founders had a rather difficult time devising their own label.

Searching the Internet can be a daunting task, but technology developed by Vivisimo is aimed at cutting through the clutter and organizing database searches into useful categories. Pictured inside incubator Innovation Works, from top to bottom, are: Jerome Pesenti, co-founder and chief scientist; Chris Palmer, chief technology officer; Denny Brestensky, vice president of operations; and Raul Valdes-Perez, co-founder and president. (Andy Starnes/Post-Gazette)

In the weeks before Raul Valdes-Perez and Jerome Pesenti launched their firm last summer, they polled friends to see which names were most appealing. Some were written off immediately. "Perscipa," for instance, sounded too much like it should be the brand name of a prescription drug. Eventually, they settled on "Discovery123."

"People liked it so-so," said Valdes-Perez, who is on a partial leave of absence from his job as senior computer science researcher at Carnegie Mellon University.

But then they discovered that another Pennsylvania company had a similar-sounding name, and they were back to the drawing board only days before their lawyer planned to file incorporation papers.

Valdes-Perez, 44, and his co-founder, Jerome Pesenti, 27, said they locked themselves in a room and vowed to remain there until they came up with a good name -- until the smoke turned white, so to speak.

Drawing on their knowledge of Latin and romance languages -- Valdes-Perez is Cuban-American and Pesenti is a French citizen -- they came up with "Vivisimo." Valdes-Perez said he was really hooked on using the superlative suffix "-isimo" and then decided that their product "livens" people's lives. Hence the root "vivo," or "I live," in Latin.

The way Valdes-Perez and Pesenti, who are running the firm out of their Squirrel Hill apartments, believe their product will improve lives is by making searches of the Internet and other databases faster. Their technology organizes search results in "clusters" of results and then examines the clusters to determine an appropriate label for each cluster. The company's Web site currently offers clustered results from major Internet search engines, and the company plans to make money by selling the clustering technology to companies that have database-intensive products, such as newspaper archives.

"The vision is to be everywhere a search engine is," said Pesenti, who came to Pittsburgh as a visiting CMU researcher.

Vivisimo can take the results from any sort of search engine and, instead of displaying the results as a list, display the results as a hierarchy of topics. For instance, if Vivisimo searches for "Pittsburgh," it displays a list of topics that starts with the University of Pittsburgh, the Steelers, the Pirates and the Penguins. This should make searches quicker since, in traditional search results, entries about these topics might appear much further down the list.

Valdes-Perez and Pesenti said clustering information was an old problem in computer science, but that their innovation was creating an algorithm that can devise very short and appropriate labels for the clusters. Older algorithms produced labels too long to be productive.

And Vivisimo really does make life easier for people who spend a lot of time searching databases, said Peter Brusilovsky, a Pitt professor of information science who has studied Vivisimo's efficiency.

Aurigin Systems, a California company, announced this week that it had become Vivisimo's second client. Aurigin will use the clustering technology as part of its database of patent records that its clients search to find commercial opportunities.

Currently, Aurigin clients spend half their time searching the database and half their time using the information. Vivisimo should allow them to reduce the amount of time it takes to search the database by 20 percent or 30 percent, said Lynne Saunders, Aurigin's vice president for corporate marketing.

Although the season of the great bust might seem like a bad time to launch an information technology firm, Timothy Slevin, a senior vice president at Parker/ Hunter who tracks the industry, said there may be room for Vivisimo.

"If you look at Google and at Alta Vista prior to that, there do tend to be generational advances in search engine technology," said Slevin, who was not familiar with Vivisimo. "Searching the Internet is kind of a need that's not going away and it's not getting any smaller."

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