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Searching For “The Next Google”
“Company X could be the next Google” is a platitude often bandied about by financial journalists or investment analysts touting typically obscure companies that could, potentially, score success on a Google-like scale. Most companies never come close to achieving Google’s financial or commercial success, of course. But say you were interested in finding one of these semi-mythical firms—how would you go about it?
One avenue that venture capitalists and other investors use is the DEMO conference.
The DEMO conference is a fun showcase where emerging technologies are introduced to the world. Participation is by invitation, and the products and services introduced are all over the map, including hardware, software and web based applications. This past week more than 70 companies presented at DEMO, hoping for investment backing or media exposure to launch them into the big time.
A number of the DEMO presentations were from companies with search-related technologies. Yes, maybe—just maybe—”the next Google.” Here’s a look at these search-related demonstrations. I’ve also tossed in a few others that just struck me as being interesting or super-useful for people who spend a lot of time working with information.
All demonstrations at DEMO are short and sweet. They are also video taped and archived, so you can watch them online via streaming video. Brief notes describe the product or service being demonstrated, and include commentary from DEMO organizers and contact info (including website URL) for the company doing a demonstration.
The demos are organized by theme. This year, the themes were: Where’s the Innovation? Everywhere!, Making it All Work, So, You Want to be a Media Mogul, Unleashing Your Inner Creative, Making Mobile Work, Taking it to the Streets, Wisdom of the Crowds and Wisdom of the Algorithms. A full list of all demos in the order they were presented is here. My list of interesting demos below is loosely ranked from most-to-least search-centric, with a few non-search but useful demos at the end.
Note: Links to company names go to the demonstrating company’s web site; links to product names automatically launch the streaming video demonstrations that are embedded into DEMO information pages.
Search For What I Mean, Not What I Say. TextDigger demoed Digger, a search tool that goes beyond the literal meaning of search terms by disambiguating queries and expanding them with synonyms and conceptually related phrases. This lets you search for things like “San Francisco hotels with a view of the Golden Gate bridge.” There’s also a control panel that gives you a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the query expansion and assumptions Digger is making—for example, that “hostel” is a synonym of “hotel,” but should have less weight than “inn” or “suites.” Digger is in private beta right now; you can request an invitation from the Digger home page.
Zagat on Steroids. Boorah demoed Boorah Restaurant Search, which sifts through and interprets the millions of reviews, blogs and other pieces of social content about local businesses to generate concise “Zagat-like” summaries, detailed ratings and “best of” lists. The current search focuses on ratings and reviews on over 75,000 restaurants in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, but Boorah plans to broaden their tool to be a more generalized local search service. Greg Sterling took a closer look at Boorah in Boorah Restaurant Reviews: Zagat On Steroids.
Automated, Personalized Event Discovery. Attendio, Inc. demoed Attendio, a system that allows you to list your interests and get recommendations for upcoming events in your area. Event notification can be integrated into your favorite calendar program, creating in essence a personalized feed of events, organized by dates. Currently, Attendio is launched in San Francisco, but you can sign up to add events in other cities.
Deep Business & People Search. ZoomInfo demoed ZoomInfo PowerSearch 2007, a fee-based tool that’s a specialized business and people search engine—think Hoovers meets LinkedIn, with some nifty organizational tools thrown in. PowerSearch 2007 uses a crawler to scour the web for information on people and businesses and aggregates this into profiles that can be sliced and diced in all kinds of interesting ways. This looks like it would be a fantastic tool for sales and marketing, competitive research or other tasks requiring deep knowledge of the business world.
Web Annotation with Social Discovery. Trailfire, Inc. demoed Trailfire, a web annotation tool that allows you to attach sticky notes on web pages and create “trails” of pages grouped into a particular sequence or theme—think Furl mashed up with Digg and Clipmarks. Other Trailfire users can also comment on your sticky note, offering a community aspect. An interesting idea, but most social web annotation services in the past have either been overwhelmed with spam or simply not garnered a lot of attention.
Collective Discovery as Advanced Search. Aggregate Knowledge demoed Collective Discovery for Media and Retail, a system for online retailers and publishers to track user behavior and then incorporate viewing and purchasing activities into profiles used to display related items a user may be interested in. The system is similar to Amazon’s “users who bought also bought” but with “billions of datapoints” that presumably make the collective recommendation engine more effective. This isn’t something you can use directly, but you can see it in action at Overstock.com (look for the “People who viewed this also viewed” images on a product page).
Discover World Cinema. Jaman, Inc. demoed Jaman, a social network and video download site focused on the 99% of films made in the world that don’t make it into widespread commercial distribution in theaters or on DVD—think a highbrow, rental-based YouTube. The site is in beta, with 200 films available now and 1,000 licensed. Films are available to rent for $1.99 or to buy for $4.99.
Democratically Ranked Discussion & Debate. Helium, Inc. demoed Helium, and although they didn’t call it as much, it’s remarkably like a Web 2.0 forum. Users can post articles on any topic, or ask questions which other users respond to. Articles and responses are rated by the user community, promoting higher quality content—think About.com meets Digg. Helium makes the claim “where knowledge rules,” but a glance at responses to the question “Are there any search engines that give better results than google?” shows that Helium attracts just as many idiots as other user-generated content sites—they’re just more polite.
Finding Early Stage Research. Kauffman Innovation Network demoed IBridge Network, a search tool that allows researchers or product developers to find early-stage intellectual property available for licensing. This IP comes from universities that have agreed to participate in the network.
There are other demos that have something of a search/discovery component that are worth a look if you’re really interested in exploring new technologies. These include PairUp, Inc., CircleUp, Inc., Reveal Technology, Inc. and blinkx, Inc.
Demo has made streaming videos of all demos going back to 2004 in their video archives section.