Software Helps Firms Map Mountains Of Information

November 05, 1998

RICHLAND, Wash. -- Overwhelmed by the information age? Mired in document dumps from your favorite Internet search engine? Searching for meaning in the morass of e-mail messages?

The United States intelligence community found itself in much the same situation several years ago and turned to the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for help. The solution was software and visualization tools that graphically show clusters of similar themes within thousands of documents.

That technology now is available to businesses through a product called ThemeScape 1.0. ThemeScape was released in October by Cartia Inc. of Redmond, Wash. The laboratory technology was exclusively licensed to Cartia, formerly known as ThemeMedia, in 1996 to make it available for commercial use. Since then, Cartia has re-engineered the software for use as a packaged business application.

Cartia saw the potential benefit to business people who need to absorb information from multiple sources. ThemeScape maps show a big-picture view of actual information collected from large quantities of documents, web pages, e-mail messages and other sources.

Within minutes, ThemeScape can focus the user on the few pertinent documents needed rather than the hundreds or thousands accessible -- and display their relationship in the form of topographical maps. Concentrations of documents around a given topic rise from the surface of a map much like mountain peaks.

"Early development was funded by the U.S. government to help intelligence analysts discover patterns and trends within hundreds of thousands of messages," said Renie McVeety, Pacific Northwest information visualization program manager.

A key mission of the laboratory is to transfer government-developed technology to the private sector. "Much of the research and development performed for DOE and other government clients has applicability in the business world, but some are more useful than others in the private sector," said Marv Erickson, intellectual property manager. "We knew the ThemeScape technology was going to be very important to a variety of industries."

Companies, such as Cartia, are able to license technology for a fee and also provide royalties to the government and Battelle, which operates Pacific Northwest for DOE. In this case, Battelle provided an exclusive license for the technology in return for an equity position in Cartia. Resulting dividends or money received from sale of the equity position will be split with DOE. In the Cartia deal, five researchers from the Pacific Northwest development team now are working for Cartia.

The basis of ThemeScape is a technology called SPIRE, which is still available to Battelle customers. Battelle has continued to advance the technology and can modify or customize the tools to meet specific client needs.

SPIRE and ThemeScape are sophisticated systems that read the documents, figures out what they're about, organizes the information and maps the entire collection onto one screen. Patterns and relationships -- some perhaps very unexpected - begin to emerge when information from thousands of different documents is combined. Hundreds of thousands of documents can be placed onto a single map using these technologies.

ThemeScape has high value wherever large volumes of information are commonplace, such as in market intelligence, customer feedback, patent analysis and legal research. ThemeScape is being used at several major corporations, including British Petroleum, Philips Electronics, Ford and Texaco.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is one of nine DOE multi-program national laboratories and has been operated by Battelle since 1965.

For technical or business information on PNNL information visualization technologies contact: Dennis McQuerry, , at (509)375-2953 or visit the information visualization web site at For more information on Cartia, access its web site at or (425)602-3550.

DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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