A Look at the Next Generation of Search?

I stopped by the AlwaysOn Media conference in New York yesterday, to check out a "next-generation search" session and a panel on keyword advertising. The first thing I realized was that I should have hid my name badge, or registered under Incisive Media instead of "Search Engine Watch." I quickly realized I was swimming with VC sharks, who smelled money and wanted to know what was hot in search right now.

The companies that AlwaysOn picked for its "CEO Showcase" session in search, a rapid-fire series of elevator pitches, were Collarity, Eurekster, Mercora, Nexidia, and ZoomInfo (links to past SEW coverage).

The five companies all had a slightly different take on what the next big thing in search will be.

Eurekster

"We've been very focused on end-user behavior, as a key driver of determining relevancy. We realized if we could leverage community actions and expertise, and provide a tool set to publishers to capture that, that would be really interesting," said Steve Marder, CEO, Eurekster.

Eurekster's platform is based on the idea of Swickis, which combine the power of a search algorithm with the collaboration of a wiki. Its product uses index data from Yahoo, Ask, Feedster, and other specialized search engines. It adds value with behavioral re-ranking and collaborative filtering, to create results that are more relevant to a given community.

It does this through implicit factors, using click stream analysis to analyze user behavior, and will soon be adding explicit factors, engaging users to come in and contribute their expertise in a Yahoo Answers-type of way.

Eurekster divides online publishing market in three ways -- personal publishers, who can use a self-serve Swicki Builder; larger publishers, who get a higher level of service and customization with the Swicki Publisher product; and Swicki Domain for large publishers with multiple domains.

Customers include Popular Science, Forbes, TechCrunch, Net Noir, and Pittsburgh Live.

Mercora

Mercora is a "social radio" network which enables users to become DJs and create their own user-programmed radio channel. A search function allows users to find specific songs, albums, artists, or genres of music.

"We're the largest social network you've never heard of," quipped CEO Srivats Sampath, formerly the CEO of antivirus giant McAfee.

Sampath said he chose to get into radio because it was "ripe for rewriting the rules of the game." The site served more than 1.3 million DJs last year, with over 3.5 million tracks in its database. There were over 400 million searches during 300 million visits, which typically lasted 32 minutes.

Mercora offers a Web application for casual listeners, playlist software for DJs, and a mobile product to enable smartphones to become wireless radios.

The main monetization method for Mercora is its "MadWords" program, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Google's search ads. It will serve music-based ads, triggered by a keyword search. Searches return links to all DJs on the network who are currently webcasting songs by that artist. For example, an unsuccessful live demo during Sampath's presentation for "Barenaked Ladies" revealed rich media ads bought by Network Music Group, the band's label, triggered by that keyword.

Nexidia

Nexidia offers a tool to index spoken-word content, using technology developed at Georgia Tech University. It analyzes an audio or video track to create a "phonetic audio track". One hour of audio or video can be processed in one minute. Users can search to find the exact point in a track where a word or phrase can be found.

Publishers, such as local TV affiliates, can index all of their long-form content and make it searchable to users. One of the first clients is an NBC affiliate in Atlanta. Nexidia has indexed all of the station's 7 daily broadcasts and made them searchable. Text, image, or video ads can be served alongside clips in a Flash-based video player.

"If you can enable an end user to accurately search a content library, you could empower the content owner to virally syndicate their clips, and empower the user at the same time," said Drew Lanham, SVP Media for Nexidia.

ZoomInfo

ZoomInfo is a business people search engine that this week added "Powersearch 2007," which uses semantic technology to build a database of information about businesses and business professionals. Data is collected by crawling the Web, focusing on corporate Web sites, press releases, electronic news services, SEC filings and other online sources.

Natural language processing algorithms are then applied to extract core entities from the content, and create connections and relationships between data to make it more easily searchable. It uses this to create a list of "drill-down words," suggesting to users different ways to refine the results.

The bottom line is, whether you're a CEO trying to build your business, a VP of marketing trying to build a pipeline, a recruiter looking for talent, or really any business person that just needs to know your stuff, ZoomInfo Powersearch is the tool you need," said Bryan Burdick, ZoomInfo's COO.

The service is currently monetized through subscriptions for premium users, and will soon add targeted ads from Google or Tacoda to its SERPs.

Collarity

Collarity solves the problem of "how to connect to moving targets," explained CEO Levy Cohen.

Collarity offers a social search tool for communities, called the Collarity Compass. It uses collective searcher behavior on a given publisher's site to customize search results made from that site, both site search and Web search. A successful search by a user in that community will inform the algorithm so that the next searcher is presented with those results sooner.

"It's not the wisdom of the greater Web crowd, or the wisdom of the isolated site crowd. It's the wisdom of the right cluster of people on the site: the wisdom of 'my' crowd," Cohen said.

Compass search results are made up of three parts: Amazon-style recommendations, search results, and targeted text or banner ads. Collarity also offers a tool for publishers to dig down into searches made on the site. There is no cost to publishers other than a revenue-share from ads served in search results.

VC Reaction

After the presentations, a panel of VCs commented on the companies, and the search space in general. According to Nenad Marovac, managing partner with dncapital, the future of search is heading in two main directions: guided navigation, which is getting through lots of data and finding what you want; and audio and video search.

"It's exciting to see as many presentations as we saw from these companies doing great things, and doing it under the shadow of a company do dominant as Google," added David Carlick, managing director with VantagePoint Venture Partners.

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