'Grace notes for ebooks': A new Trajectory for discoverability

Image - iStockphoto: ptk78
Image – iStockphoto: ptk78

When the machines read your book

The Bookseller on the stands in London this morning reports that Bowker — the ProQuest-owned US ISBN agency and publishing research firm — is in final talks for a partnership with a company called Trajectory.

The aim at Bowker is to offer authors and small publishers a new way to generate book recommendations for their readers.

Trajectory, based in Boston and founded in 2012, is also in talks with major retail and distribution companies. It has worked with many of them in developing this new approach to the discoverability challenge for both commercial and library settings.

Trajectory has developed a machine-based process that for the first time in history is able to recommend related books based on a variety of proprietary algorithms.

Jim Bryant, let, and Scott Beatty of Trajectory 2That’s Trajectory’s c.e.o. Jim Bryant (pictured, left), formerly with Sony’s Data Discman. Bryant and his partner Scott Beatty — who with Bryant created InfoPlease.com, which they sold to Pearson — this week are meeting with potential clients and partners: retailers and distributors.

And what they’re discussing is a process that begins with a form of “machine learning.”

  • A book is loaded into Trajectory’s system.
  • Automated “Natural Language Processing” (NLP) parses the text, “reading’ and categorizing the data.
  • When an analysis of the book’s key elements is made, the book’s characteristic profile, its “personality,” is exposed.
  • Then search algorithms find matches to the book within the growing database.
  • Those matches generate recommendations.

This is numbers applied to words, a series of mathematical interpretations of textual data based in techniques of vector space modeling; “term frequency-inverse document frequency”; cosine similarity; and least squares. If the Trajectory textual analysis programming and algorithms are implemented deeply and widely, its executive team says that a new mode of discoverability will soon be at hand. The company has referred to this at times as a “grace note for ebooks.”

You don’t have to understand the mathematical analysis behind Trajectory to know that the grace of a little automated discoverability would make a lot of people in the publishing industry very happy about now.

Beat Barblan
Beat Barblan

In response to The Bookseller’s inquiry, Bowker director of identifier services Beat Barblan said, “We see tremendous value in offering authors and publishers the opportunity to process their works with the Trajectory system for matching readers to books. Their natural language processing and recommendation results are indeed impressive.”

The Trajectory-Bowker agreement may create one of the first showcases in which the publishing industry can see the shift represented in the Trajectory technology’s potential.

Text as data

Simply put, where most algorithmic recommendations so far have been based on sales (as in Amazon’s “customers who bought this item also bought…”), Trajectory’s algorithms deploy a book’s text. First that text is broken down into various “vectors.”

The Trajectory analysis uses myriad vectors to model “high-level abstractions.”

By comparing one book’s unique characteristics to others’ — time period, action, pace, “intensity,” word types, book length, dialog, “distinct word prevalence,” mood, gender, movement, specific references, and more — the system then is able to offer matches, recommendations of ebooks based on their content rather than on their sales history.

"Vectors," or storytelling components that figure into Trajectory's algorithmic comparisons of books. Image: Trajectory, Inc.
“Vectors,” or storytelling components that figure into Trajectory’s algorithmic comparisons of books. Image: Trajectory, Inc.

eBooks a reader discovers through Trajectory’s analysis, then, are reflective of other work the reader has enjoyed.

It’s easy to see how a major online retailer might want to use such technology. If you buy a book, the Trajectory system can then generate recommendations of other books based on the first purchase’s characteristics.

Bryant points out that the same capability is available to libraries.

“Imagine you’re a library,” Bryant says, “and you’re eager to increase your funding. Your funding is based on the number of books you check out. Imagine being proactive and able to email your library patrons and say, ‘Hey, you read this book, and we think there are some other books you might be interested in,'” based on the kind of textual analysis that Trajectory’s system can provide.

“I think we’ll see a lot of libraries try to redefine themselves this year,” Bryant says, “and start to be more proactive, reaching out to patrons to give them an edge.”

Bowker’s partnership announcement is significant because it provides a way for authors and small publishers to utilize the Trajectory technology, which until now has been primarily — and quietly — introduced only to points of retail distribution and to some library distributors. Bryant and Beatty say that even as they formalize deals with major retail players and publishers, they’re also intent on getting the technology into the hands of independent authors, as the competition of millions of titles mounts.

“Our primary target market now are the points of distribution,” Bryant says, “meaning every ebook retailer or distributor that we’re currently working with.  One of the competitive advantages we think we have in launching this is that the deliverable is pretty straightforward. It’s a list of keywords that can be ingested into a retailer’s own search engine to allow readers on their site to find books that contain certain people, places, or subject matter.”

 Read More

By Porter Ander­son

The FutureBook: ‘Grace notes for ebooks’: A new Trajectory for discoverability

Read the full post at: TheBookseller.com/futurebook


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