Autonomy To Reclaim Blinkx, Then Spin It Off
The relationship between enterprise search company
Autonomy and video search company
Blinkx has always been confusing.
now reports that the "weirdly secretive relationship" (I agree) is getting
clearer. Autonomy is to exercise an option to take over Blinkx, then appears to
be spinning some consumer-facing search technology that its owns (and I believe
Blinkx was licensing) into an independent company Blinkx, that will go public in
Autonomy doesn’t have any consumer-facing products, as best I can tell. Here,
you look and
try and find them. In the late 1990s, it pitched "agent" technology that was
going to bring back items of interest to searchers. That never took off. Then in
2000, it offered this odd Kenjin tool that would analyze what you were viewing
and offer suggestions. That never gained acceptance.
When Blinkx first came out, it was like Kenjin with a new name. As I
at the time:
Want to search your hard drive?
Blinkx is designed to do this, plus provide the ability to search the web, as
well. It’s similar to what many expect Microsoft will one day try to do or
that Google itself is rumored to be doing.
I’m wary of tools like Blinkx
that are pitched as if they will eliminate keyword searching. Kenjin was
exactly such a tool that Autonomy rolled out back in 2000 promising to put
"search engines in the dustbin," in one PR quote that I recall. Read the
release [NOTE: no longer online] from the time for more hype about how our
lives were going to change.
The idea was that you’d show
Kenjin a "perfect" document, then have it go out and find others that matched.
Kenjin failed, and the reason is pretty clear. How do you show it the perfect
document, if you don’t have it to show already? I know — you use a search
Blinkx is apparently using some
of Kenjin’s technology, plus resurrecting some of that hype — but this time,
a search box is also present. Reviews of the products can be found
here. Gary Price
has a nice long rundown
here, and there’s a recent Boston Globe review
I downloaded a copy but
couldn’t get it to work — you might have more luck. The site also offers an
interesting online search feature for those with broadband connections, with
some fun visualization tools to play with.
Some time after that, Blinkx transformed into a video search tool. Along the
way, poor Gary Price
figure out the relationship between the two companies, getting this statement
from Blinkx CEO Suranga Chandratillake:
Autonomy is not one of blinkx’s shareholders. We [blinkx] enjoy a close
relationship with them (Autonomy) but that’s because (I was there for years
(including as US CTO) and have lots of friends there, (b) we are an OEM
customer of theirs, and so depend on them in a number of ways technologically.
Under the terms of the OEM agreements, under certain circumstances, Autonomy
does have an option to invest in blinkx.
So now Autonomy seems to want to exercise that option, no doubt looking at
the $1.65 billion Google
paid for YouTube and wondering if it can tap into some of that money. But
what is this consumer stuff beyond Blinkx that the Autonomy press release talks
Autonomy’s consumer division is formed from Autonomy’s research and
development related to the application of Autonomy’s award-winning IDOL
technology to the consumer space, and
background on IDOL. From what I can tell, it goes back to some of the text
analysis technology used in the Kenjin product, the original Blinkx tool and no
doubt some of the text analysis that Blinkx does as part of video transcription
The FT article says that "Blinkx will be given exclusive rights to the
technology, everywhere outside China." I think this means exclusive for consumer
facing products, since Autonomy still seems to use this technology for its core
The FT article also says "Autonomy’s technology does not rely on text and
keywords but uses mathematical formulae to detect patterns in any type of
information, including pictures and sounds." Actually, I don’t believe this is
correct. When it comes to pictures (specifically, video) and sounds, my
understanding is that Autonomy is still examining textual content that describes
that material (transcripts). It very much relies on texts. But rather than just
doing straight keyword matching, it looks beyond the exact words to find
Autonomy used to strongly pitch that its Bayesian pattern matching analysis
could figure out a document was on certain subjects, as you still see
allowing it to find other documents with the same subject "fingerprint." But
ultimately, this was still a word-based search technology.
This was back in the early days of search engines, and the pitch was
something Autonomy especially used to distinguish itself and suggest it would
outlast the big contemporary search engines around at the time. Yes, Lycos,
Infoseek, Excite all went away. But so did Autonomy as a consumer search player,
which speaks volumes that the pattern matching it hawked wasn’t that useful for
consumer search. Instead, it was Google that appeared from nowhere pushing link
analysis as the more useful technology.
Autonomy, of course, thrived in the enterprise space (where links are less
important, and textual analysis more, since you don’t have people purposely
trying to alter search rankings). Autonomy still seems to be keeping the IDOL
technology for its core business, enterprise search. The real big question is
what happens with the Virage video search technology?
Challenge Isn’t Speech Recognition, It’s Content Owner Management from me in
February covers more about how Autonomy purchased
Virage, which seems core to its enterprise
video search offerings. Blinkx doesn’t seem to be getting Virage or the
That leaves me wondering if after spinning off Blinkx, could Autonomy down
the line decide to go back into the consumer video search space with the Virage
technology it retains?