Interview with Bobak Tvangar, CEO of Infograf – Dr Sam Beatson

Marcus Alexander Ong

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015


What is important about the amount of data now collected on individuals, including, for instance, their health and buying habits? In what way can the forecasts we can make from analysis of this data impact society for the better? How can governments adapt and respond to big data and what kind of analysis should they be doing?

These are some of the questions I put to CEO Bobak Tvangar, of Infograf, a tech start-up now based out of Hong Kong. An extract from that discussion is provided below. The article concludes with more about Infograf.


What is important about the amount of data we now collect on individuals and society, including, e.g. health and buying habits?

Experiences can be tailored to individuals. [From big data] we have a better sense of individuals, their habits, their patterns, how they might be connected to other individuals. We can get a sense of patterns in society. In one sense, it means that across different geographies, we can generate patterns. When there is an event, what kinds of people move left, which move right and which keep moving forwards. We might be able to predictively look at where society is going over the long term.

In what way do you feel the ability we have to make these kinds of forecasts impact society for the better?

This is a tough question…so I actually see a worrying trend. I think that this can impact society for the better, but I see a trend toward seeing all this in the lens of pure monetization. Because much of the tools used to parse and understand this information, much of it is executed by corporations with a for-profit motive. So to answer your question. I think it is that humanity as a whole can start to really understand beyond what we can physically sense in terms of touch, sight and so on. We can see in a digital world how all of us are intimately connected. I think that is what tech is allowing us to do for the first time.

How can governments adapt and respond to big data and what kind of analysis should they be carrying out?

I think there is immense promise to what governments can do…with access to a lot of rich data on their citizens. I think from reducing waste and improving efficiency, to safeguarding security and actually putting empowering information in the hands of average citizens to make decisions on the ground in our big cities, I think there is a huge role for governments that is maybe not even being taken advantage of as well as it could be right now. So I think governments have a responsibility to access all of these different layers of data on us, on corporations on locations, as they are all connected and then find ways of actually empowering citizens with ways to make better decisions in life.

Not only consumer decisions, but about health, education, career, family planning, the whole spectrum of human behaviour and life can be advised by this can’t it?

Even waste, in California, for example, water resource consumption is a huge issue, just helping people be more mindful about their physical footprint and its resonance in data.

Tell me more about Infograf…How do you gather data, put it together, what insights does it offer…you talked about the google algorithm and how that only offers web pages based on an algorithm highly reliant on semantics. Tell me who you wish to serve, how you wish to serve them, tell me where you get your data and how you process that data.

So, basically tell you everything [laughs]. We basically curate high quality and highly relevant or frequently used sources of data ranging from locational sources, like foursquare, all the way through to salesforce, more commercially oriented, encyclopaedic, like Wikipedia, fifteen thousand sources of news, angel list and crunchbase for companies, dozens and soon scaling into the hundreds of curated and frequently used data sources, often appearing in the front pages of google.

So these are pages that google loves to index and put on its front pages, and presumably the content on these pages these are considered reliably?

Right, and our job is intelligently connecting between these, so this means we add an added layer of credibility, so we can cross check information, for example by cross checking the timestamps, building a layer of credibility an ontology to these results on top of these sites, making sure certain claims and information listed on one are verified by another.

So there is a kind of quality assurance on the data, moving towards the output of that funnel, what do you then output, what is the product?

Yeah, so the product is a search product, so it is cross-platform, web based, mobile phone, eventually something for the watch, aswell. Allowing basically enterprises through an API, enables individuals like you and me through a client facing or app product to choreograph the data.

So there is a developer side and also sort or a consumer side if you like?

In terms of API, a robotics company, content discoverer engine, marketing company, other search companies, come to us, almost begging for connected graph data across these services which would really power some of what they are doing. In the robotics company case, Infograf would allow the robot to have a data brain, to turn on the light switch in a certain sense. On the user side, we are building a client facing search product, you can type in an entity string, and curated content is presented in visual form. For example, looking up news orgs in Baghdad, there were 50 million semantic web page matches, but none answered the questions. Curating data sources and intelligently putting them together, correspondents that work for them, associated maps, biographical data and articles.

Bobak Tvangar is the CEO of Infograf. He has a management and economics background and lived in Beijing for two years while working for Microsoft as a product manager and learning to speak Mandarin fluently. After graduate school at Cambridge University, where he completed a Masters degree in Management, Bobak returned to the US with his startup idea. Infograf builds what they believe is the next leap in internet search.

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