Database offers insights to college, university data

Site pulls heaps of obscure info on schools

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College-bound linebackers hoping to stay close to Pittsburgh might be surprised to discover the University of Pittsburgh has 291 alumni who have played for the National Football League — the most out of 74 colleges within 100 miles of the Steel City.

A college-bound small forward interested in fraternities might head for the Oakland Zoo after learning Pitt has had the fourth-smallest tuition and fees increase over three years among 55 colleges with a Final Four men’s basketball team — and a Kappa Sigma fraternity chapter.

Athletes or not, high school seniors shuffling between college acceptance notices can now weigh random factors ranging from a school’s U.S. News and World Report ranking to its annual rainfall through OnlyBoth, a cloud-based website designed to share both significant and often obscure insights about schools pulled from heaps of data.

If all goes as planned with the OnlyBoth launch, politicians, sports reporters and even cancer researchers could soon have similar databases at their disposal.

Created last year by Raul Valdes-Perez, co-founder of Squirrel Hill-based search optimization company Vivisimo, and former Vivisimo computer scientist Andre Lessa, the site came together through a 12-year-old idea to turn traditional data analysis on its head.

Mr. Valdes-Perez first started investigating the idea of automated niche discoveries in 1998 as a Carnegie Mellon University faculty researcher. After receiving a $193,287 National Science Foundation grant in 2000 to research the topic, he shelved the idea so he could focus on creating Vivisimo that year with co-founders Jerome Pesenti and Christopher Palmer.

Vivisimo was acquired by IBM in 2012 for an undisclosed amount.

After the sale, Mr. Valdes-Perez was anxious to kick-start a new venture and ready to turn back to automated niche discoveries. He teamed up with Mr. Lessa, with whom he had collaborated on an earlier Vivisimo patent, and dusted off his old research.

Following a few months of engineering, the duo formed OnlyBoth LLC at the beginning of the year.

Noting that most data analytics apps and tools work similar to IBM’s Watson supercomputer, which analyzes data and creates hypotheses in ways that model human thinking, Mr. Valdes-Perez said OnlyBoth takes the opposite approach.

Starting with pages of figures collected from the National Center for Education Statistics, it adds information from the NFL, the National Academy of Sciences, Rhodes Scholars and dozens of other references to glean thousands of previously unknown insights about schools.

“IBM’s Watson might read an encyclopedia on cities and then come up with data on what’s the population, the mayor, the geography of every city. It creates data” Mr. Valdes-Perez said.

“We’re doing the reverse problem. We’re starting with a data set and creating text out of it,” he said.

OnlyBoth’s college analysis app is the first of a suite of products to launch this year, including a sports app scheduled to be released in the next few months.

Citing “coffee” and “lawyers” as their biggest startup costs so far for the self-funded project, Mr. Valdes-Perez and Mr. Lessa said they are treating today’s official launch of the site as the start of a feedback process they hope will steer them toward the best way to use the technology.

With no outside investors seeking immediate profits, the co-founders said the launch will help make the most of what they have when they decide it’s time to turn the concept into a moneymaking product.

“What organizations out there in the world analyze things and write them up so that others can read them? Everyone,” said Mr. Valdes-Perez. “There’s a lot of scope for this, and we’ll be figuring out the best path.”

Visit http://​onlyboth.com/ for more information.

Correction (Posted May 22, 2014) An earlier of this version incorrectly indicated characterized the status of Raul Valdes-Perez after selling Vivisimo.


Deborah M. Todd: dtodd@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1652. Twitter: @deborahtodd.

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