Israeli digital software on crest of media revolution

Olive Software’s founder Yoni Stern: We invented the concept of easy access to digital news and we are still the leader in the field.With the Internet becoming the main source of news for many people, newspapers are fading into the …

Olive Software’s founder Yoni Stern: We invented the concept of easy access to digital news and we are still the leader in the field.With the Internet becoming the main source of news for many people, newspapers are fading into the background. And so are those dusty archive rooms full of yellowing newsprint that document history. But the new reality has created new problems – how to preserve the ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ quality of Internet news?

Yoni Stern, Founder and President, Technology of Israel’s Olive Software, saw the future, and has spearheaded a digital revolution by ushering in a new era of news without paper, archive search without dust.

Founded in 1999, Olive bridges the gap between the paper past and digital future. Olive’s technology transforms any document from any source, while preserving its every aspect in an intelligent and open digital format.

Olive Software is the creator of the first XML Automation Platform that turns any newspaper, or magazine into easily accessible on-line content. (XML, an open standard format, was around before Olive Software, but conversion to XML was complex and costly until Olive made it automatic.) To gather information, you press a button, and avoid a messy pile-up of papers, poring over old microfiche or dusty, time-damaged pages.

“We invented the concept of easy access to digital news and we are still the leader in the field,” said Stern, and he was not bragging. Almost 600 magazines and newspapers with almost 2 million readers – mainly in the US – use Olive Software, one of the handful of high-tech companies Bill Gates picked to meet with on his lightning trip to Israel last October.

“It is such a difficult challenge to build a start-up,” said Stern, speaking to ISRAEL21c in the company’s Israel R&D base in Hod Hasharon. “Making money is not enough of a motivation to start a new global start-up company.”

An electrical engineer, with 20 years of experience in software and marketing, Stern has patented many inventions in the field of content and imaging.

“My main emphasis is on practical technology that can be easily and widely implemented, and used by everyone to affect our daily culture,” he said.

Olive’s founder says he feels fortunate that he has been able to combine all of his hobbies (“I like to read, I like art, and I like technology”) into a business.

Stern said that his main motivation was to deal with the “loss of digital content we created in the past two decades. The big problem is that the linkage between technology and content makes it difficult to preserve digital information. Technology changes every few years.

“There are so many new formats; tens of different formats used in PC and mobile devices. You need a bunch of software packages or you have to be a computer operator to simply read a document.”

“It was my dream to create a single, open format for all applications, independent of technological change,” Stern added. His mission – every person should be able to access published information anywhere. “Content has to be neutral to the computing platform, survive and be readable forever.”

Stern said that although his grand vision is to digitalize all available printed knowledge, he decided to focus on newspapers first. “Newspapers tell us all about our culture, even when they conflict.”

Investment in the fledgling company, with American headquarters in Santa Clara, CA., came early from experienced venture capital firms. Elbit Imaging, put in the first round. Sequoia Capital invested at a later stage, and Dow Jones Newswire reported on December 18, 2005, that Pitango Venture raised another $9 million, with Sequoia Capital participating.

The British Library became Olive Software’s first customer in 2001. “Did you see their site?” Stern asks proudly. “Let’s do a search for tanks.”

Using Olive’s ‘Active Paper’ archive tools, he clicks on to a facsimile copy of a newspaper, dated 1917. You can search by subject or date, see the lead caption in the original font, download part of an article, an entire article, or see an entire page.

“See this caption, ‘A Tank in the Holy Land, in Gaza, 1917.’ You can also search for pictures. And, here is a recruitment ad,” points out Stern.

Huge amounts of invaluable information have been locked away in antiquated archives. Access to legacy content, pre-Internet, as well as the ability to go back a couple of hundred years, are already fulfilling the promise of becoming a revenue windfall for archives… to the tune of “hundreds of thousands of dollars a year,” says Stern.

The Scotsman, established in 1817, and a rich source of historical and genealogical content, posted significant revenue gains in 2005 from its Olive Software-created digital archives.

Writer Martin Goodman described his user experience: “My most exciting day of this year was spent at home whirling through research of The Scotsman… Digitization is a mighty boon to the researcher. Wonder of wonders, the typeface is large. Search words helpfully underlined in blue. Yes, that’s the wonder and joy of this method… You can buy your way into it for a daily rate… a bargain.”

Word traveled fast when the Brooklyn Library used Olive Software to awaken a sleeping giant, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (1841 to 1902), making it digitally available. The newspaper was the most widely read afternoon newspaper in the country. In a short time, usage surged to over 100,000 visits a month. (Read about John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s assassin… he weighed only 100 pounds; or, an account of ‘A Daring Diamond Thief,’ in 1862, a civil engineer by day, engaged to a minister’s daughter, who heisted $50,000 worth of jewelry… cliff hanger, find out how they caught him.)

“We saw the Olive Software, and we saw that there could be a new product line,” said an executive from Knight Ridder, publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer, a newspaper with a three million-page archive.

The Olive XML Distiller, the ‘brain’ of Olive Software has the ability to read 500,000 articles a day, and transform them to digital format. “It is our major technological achievement,” said Stern.

How does it work? After the pages are scanned, the XML Distiller, can read a document, understand its structure and content, and transform it by creating a network of Information Components which are like building blocks. The components are then coded to XML to preserve the original exactly. It is a virtual facsimile.

“Accuracy is 100%,” said Stern.

Trademarked, ‘Active Paper,’ ePublishing Platform, and ‘Active Paper’ Archives -the technology preserves the original publication style, content and layout. The Olive XML Distiller uses artificial intelligence and fuzzy logic, which enables it to compensate for poor image quality, to recapture the original content, and to create a powerful and flexible search engine. Its scalable, large model, Olive PipeX, comprises up to 96 image- processing units creating a unique parallel image processing architecture. The system has its own application server to enhance service, and a quality assurance team makes sure there are no glitches.

As confirmation of Stern’s vision, digital news is gaining readers every day. These include sports fans, subscribers to Disney-owned ESPN.com (Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) which launched a digital edition of its magazine last year in time for the Super Bowl. A profile of the site’s user: 30 year-old male, college educated, household income of $77,000. Targeting a younger group, Sports Illustrated on Campus, a new digital magazine, is opening a niche with appeal to busy college students.

“Opening up new markets for circulation, creating new revenue streams, cutting increasing paper and postal costs, the ability to track advertising revenue, to tag and access content – are all drivers for digital editions,” said Kim Dail, Vice President, and Head of Marketing.

Debra Mamorsky, editor of TEENSPEAK, an international web quarterly, said that one month after they launched a digital edition in 2005, they got 300,000 hits compared to 70,000 for the print edition.

“Customers have seen a big increase in digital newspaper and magazine circulation in the past four years,” said Stern. “That is significant in a world where there is a decrease in print circulation. Furthermore, circulation is much broader.”

He points to a British sports magazine that has readers in China. “The Chinese love soccer.”

With the ability to digitalize 150 western languages, Olive Software is pushing into new markets – particularly in Europe. It is also working together with a major company that is developing technology for digital information and media access in the future. Hints: they use crystals, silicon paper, flexible screen, and no computer.

“I predict that in 10 or 15 years, printing of certain publications such as newspaper and magazines will be out,” said Stern.

But Olive Software will be there to preserve the digital editions that we’ll all be reading.