Like a Google for journalistsExpertise Finder founders Stavros Rougas (left) and Ebrahim Ashrafizadeh (right). Photo: Press

This speciality search engine is like a Google for journalists

Publicerad: 08 October 2015, kl. 14:04

It's an ongoing struggle for journalists and producers to find knowledgeable experts and academics for interviews and TV segments. Expertise Finder wants to change that. They've created a search engine filled with academics and experts on various topics, free for journalists.

Smashdig got in touch with one of the co-founders, Stavros Rougas, over email to talk about this ‘‘Google for journalists.’’

Adam Jönsson
 

Where did you get the idea for Expertise Finder?
I was a TV producer on a current affairs program called The Agenda with Steve Paikin, it’s on a public broadcaster called TVO located in Toronto. I was looking for experts with depth all the time, too often scrambling for deadline and ending up with less than ideal guests. I thought there must be a better way so I looked and looked and looked. But nothing beat the power of the Google sledgehammer.

I teamed up with an engineer in Waterloo (Ontario) with a similar passion for knowledge and together we created the tool I wished for as a journalist.

Unlocking knowledge in a web centric way was a growing passion of mine. While the web is redefining how we communicate it’s the combination of lowering costs to build online tools that was my eureka moment. I realized in 2010 that cloud computing was hitting prime time and driven costs down which would allow people like me to consider doing things that were previously impossible.

How does it work?
It’s a search engine for journalists to find experts. It takes seconds.

Journalists are generalists by nature and need to find people with specific expertise. You can start with even the most general search and then click on any area of expertise to see related knowledge. You can poke around and quickly discover people with specific knowledge, including things you didn’t know existed but make sense when you see them.

Who are the experts listed on the search engine?
Over 20,000 academics from accredited universities and colleges across North America.

How do you make money?
Listing experts is free for accredited universities and colleges. We make money by selling features like analytics and using our software to build custom experts directories for universities and colleges. It’s a cloud solution, with no IT they get a directory with our search technology and more.

There is no way to buy a higher ranking or listing. There is no advertising. It’s based on relevancy of expertise. In the end of the day it’s a useful piece of a journalist’s toolbox.

What have the initial reactions been?
It resonates with journalists as it solves a problem, the same one I had that led to founding Expertise Finder. We have had to work hard to convince both journalists and experts that we truly care about quality. Building trust in an ongoing daily mission.

Plus when you do something new and innovative there are people who resist it, in large part because it can disrupt how they work.

Do you have any plans on launching this outside of North America?
Our short term focus is to grow in the United States with more experts listed and more American journalists using Expertise Finder on a regular basis. Our mantra is more of higher quality.

We are interested in local partners. With so many educated Swedes speaking English fluently it’s a natural early market in Europe. The challenge is that we need a critical mass before launching, a few hundred Swedes is not enough to tell journalists we cover Sweden for example.

What’s the next focus for Expertise Finder? Will you work to add more experts from, for example, think tanks?
We have purposely slowed growth to ensure quality. We have a few experts from Think Tanks and will be opening up in this direction. Further opening up will depend on demand and our ability to ensure ongoing quality.

What is your background and what’s the background of the other co-founder, Ebrahim Ashrafizadeh?
We founded it in 2011 while I was working as a journalist and my partner Ebrahim [Ashrafizadeh] was working as an engineer. We are both the children of immigrants to Canada, mine from Greece and Northern Ireland, Ebrahim’s from Iran. By nature we think internationally and speak five different languages between us.

I’m an insatiably curious person. Before becoming a journalist I learned languages and lived on three continents after my bachelor’s degree from a university close to my hometown.

While working in international development in the former Soviet Union is struck me that having knowledge available and accessible was fundamental. In one case I was working in a small city in Kazakhstan and leaned that part of the reason mothers were not applying for government support for their disabled child is that they were unaware. Sometimes officials asked them to supply a document as they had never heard of the program.

I spearheaded a project to gather electronic versions of documents in Kazakh, Russian and English. Some documents were only found in one language, but that’s one where their was none and they were often the hardest ones to find. Past development projects had translated some documents into English and this was the only version we found.

The document were categorized and put on an interactive CD. Computers were everywhere, not DVDs drive or internet access. I was offered a budget to print a book, and peanuts for CDs. I look the peanuts knowing better to us the money elsewhere than create a book with limited long term benefit. When it was done those who didn’t get what we were doing suggested making more copies. While I appreciated the support even it was too late, they nonetheless still struggled to understand that you could make infinite copies as the CD was designed to be copied to a computer. It was one of the most meaningful things I have ever done, beyond anything I have subsequently done as a journalist. I know that one of those files was at some point discovered and made a difference, in part because it was electronic and accessible.

[This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and length. A version of this article appeared in Swedish on Smashdig’s sister site, Smashdig.se, on Aug. 6, 2015.]

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