Algolia moves beyond web search to place search

Algolia is branching out and offering Algolia Places, an easy-to-use, global address autocompletion component

Algolia moves beyond web search to place search
Credit: Thinkstock

Algolia offers a hosted search platform. That means if you're a developer wanting to offer search within your applications and websites, you just integrate Algolia's search engine and it does it all for you—allowing you to focus on what is important: your app. Since its inception in 2012, Algolia has gained over 1,500 customers.

Algolia API returns search results quickly and offers a search-as-you-type experience for end users. A perfect example of farming out parts of an application to third parties, Algolia follows in the footsteps of communication platforms such as Twilio and email platforms such as Sendgrid. To deliver both economics and speed, Algolia built itself a distributed, cloud-based, search network. It leverages 12 individual data centers globally to deliver a claimed 50ms response time for search within the top markets globally.

The company has a couple of announcements today: a product one (more on that in a bit) and a funding one.

Algolia has picked up an $18.3 million Series A funding round—an impressive figure in this depressed climate. The round was led by high-profile VC firm Accel Partners, with participation from Alven Capital, Point Nine Capital, Storm Ventures, Lead Edge Capital, Parse’s Ilya Sukhar, Docker’s Solomon Hykes, Kevin Rose and Splunk’s Erik Swan.

It seems site search isn't enough, as Algolia is broadening out and offering Algolia Places, an easy-to-use, global address autocompletion component. What does that all mean? Algolia provides an easy way for developers to offer address autocompletion on their websites in order to make the address fields of HTML forms more user-friendly. Algolia Places leverages OpenStreetMap's open source database of worldwide places.

While not up there alongside curing cancer or finding world peace, Algolia Places does resolve something that is a small pain point for application developers. The product has been well thought out and has some small but important innovations that make it easier to use, such as Algolia's main search product. Places allows auto-completion and is tolerant of typographical errors in search strings. It is also contextual and offers up a mixture of relevant local and famous places.

My POV

Address autocompletion is not, as I mentioned, a cure for cancer. That said, it is a useful thing for anyone who gets sick of entering their physical address several times a day. From that perspective, it's a logical thing for Algolia to offer.

My question revolves more around the defensibility of this solution. Algolia is, after all, making use of a publicly available, open source database of places. How hard is it for someone to set up a similar service somewhere else. I put this to Algolia and asked them what the intention was with Places. Is this a commercial product? Their response indicated that this is more about getting Algolia out there and noticed:

Defensibility for Algolia Places comes from "simply the speed and relevance that is obtained thanks to the engine. The relevance is not yet perfect, but we continue to improve it daily. We didn't create Places to make money directly with it. There is no direct monetization; it's more a way to improve the brand recognition. On a case-by-case basis and for big users (high usage ones), we'll then charge our standard Algolia pricing."

That makes sense, and the fact that it is free and doesn't have any obvious gotchas could give Algolia the chance to actually build some momentum with Places. And for all those who tire of all those incessant keystrokes, Places will be a happy arrival.

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