Not the "next Google," but still interesting

Specialty search engines may have their place

No start-up on the horizon is likely to overcome Google's breadth of services and Internet mindshare, but there are some recent developments that may just pull users away from Google -- at least for some functions.

There is no question about Google's dominance in Internet services of all kinds.

The company is, by far,  No. 1 when it comes to search engines -- 63% of the U.S. searches in February, according to comScore, with Yahoo a distant second with 21% followed by Microsoft, Ask and AOL in single digits. In addition, Google's wide array of other products such as gmail, Google Docs, Google Analytics, Google Health and Google Voice have caused the company to become synonymous with Internet in many people's minds. But, even with Google's overall Internet dominance and its myriad of specialty search functions, other companies are still looking for business opportunities. The companies offering specialty search engines are the best example of this.

Shortly after my column was published on double paying for the results of federally funded research ("Paying for Internet content once is not enough"), I heard from a spokesperson for Novo|seek. It turns out thatseek is a user of the type of research information I wrote about.

Novo|

The spokesperson arranged for me to speak with Ramon Alonso-Allende, director of marketing and business development for the Madrid, Spain-based outfit.. Novo|seek is a specialty natural language-based search engine that focuses on biomedical literature. The search engine does not just do simple word searches: instead, it understands how terms are used in the literature so it can find documents where synonyms are used and ignore documents where a search term is used with a different meaning.

Novo|seek is, by far, not the only specialty search engine on the Internet, although it seems to be one of the ones best suited to its intended users. A few days ago the New York Times had an article on Kosmix, a start-up that tries to return "more about something" than simple word-based search engines do. A few days before it published the article on Kosmix the Times wrote up Anglesoft, a search engine targeted at entrepreneurs looking for investors and OneRiot, a search engine that looks for gossip.

A quick Web search found many other examples including PeoplePond, optimized for searching out people; Fashion Latte, a "visual search engine" developed by University of Illinois students to facilitate people browsing dresses; dogpile , which looks like a normal search engine but some of the revenue it generates goes to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; the EFF FOIA Search Engine from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and designed to search documents released under the U.S. Freedom Of Information Act; FanSnap, for finding concert, sports and theatre tickets; Hunch, "a consumer-facing online decision engine" that just got $2 million in venture funding and is supposed to go live soon; and Wolfram Alpha, a natural language-based search engine that is supposed to go live in two months

Natural language-based search engines seem to be the buzz of the moment, with people seemingly forgetting that this was one of the original concepts behind Ask Jeeves, now ask.com. Betting that Google somehow can't figure this technology out is not a good bet to me.

Disclaimer: The math of betting has been the subject of Harvard courses, and not-quite betting was the subject of the movie "21" that featured a Harvard character. But the above is my own review, not Harvard's.

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