Social Search Seeks Success

Eurekster CEO Grant Ryan (pictured) says Eurekster’s new search engine marries the old Internet search business model with the new social networking trend, to yield an entirely new type of search engine. Launched in January, the service learns from the behavior of users and their social networks to both deliver personalized search results and to offer instant sharing of popular Web destinations and searches among extended communities.

Eurekster utilizes both commercial and non-commercial search results from Overture, and derives revenue from Overture’s commercial search results, with paid placements appearing under “Sponsored Listings” headings on Eurekster. Other non-commercial results are provided by the Fast index (which powers Alltheweb.com).

iMedia Connection: Please explain to me how this works.

Ryan: Say you’re looking to purchase a digital camera. You’ll probably do a lot of research online, looking up model numbers, going to manufacturers’ sites, doing some comparison shopping. Statistics show that 20 percent to 50 percent of people go to a site they’ve been to before. So next time you type in the same term, the sites you were most interested in will appear at the top. Our system remembers what you found to be most relevant.

iMedia Connection: What if I go to a site, but it turns out that it’s not that valuable to me. Would that then be part of what is returned as a “favorite” next time?

Ryan: The system uses very sophisticated algorithms that, among other things, take length of time on a site into consideration. If you were only there a minute or so, then, no, it probably won’t come up as a favorite.

iMedia Connection: OK, what about the social network element? How does my search for digital cameras affect my friends’ searches?

Ryan: The system will use what you found most relevant to help personalize searches for your friends. If someone you know is also interested in digital cameras, all the work you’ve done will be at the top of the list for them as well. It’s just like word-of-mouth, only amplified and personalized.

iMedia Connection: Why is this the next evolution of search?

Ryan: The reason we believe this is the next evolution of search is that if you look back at the history of search engines -- first you had the AltaVistas and InfoSeek, which used keywords and meta tags to return results; next came Yahoo! and LookSmart, which have editors doing the work of finding results; then came Google and Teoma, which basically give you the results Webmasters think match. The next logical step is what people you associate with think is relevant.

We’ve become accustomed to everyone receiving the same results. But clearly, the billions of people in the world have different ideas of what is useful and relevant. This system learns from your behavior what is relevant for you and people like you.

Personalization is such a big part of the future of search. There are interesting ways it can be applied to how people market. Currently, paid listings are targeted to keywords but personalization will enable the targeting to be based on more things including, locality, industry sector, profession, social group.

iMedia Connection: What other unique features does Eurekster offer?

Ryan: On the right hand side of the page, there are two “what’s hot” boxes, covering recent searches and recent visited destinations. We think of them like online water coolers. They let you “overhear” what’s of interest to other people right now, both on a general basis and among your network. That might prompt you to look at things you might not have heard about. Again, it amplifies the word-of-mouth concept.

Here are two examples of how this has benefited searchers. We had a minor earthquake in our home town. Some of our colleagues were out of town. They saw that people were doing searches related to the earthquake, which is how they found out about it so they could then check on their families.

In another situation, a woman was checking into schools for her child. She found that someone else in her network had also been doing this, so she was able to contact the other person and the two were able to compare notes to help them make decisions.

iMedia Connection: How is privacy protected if what an individual searches for is public and others can contact them based on their searches? 

Ryan: We enable privacy in three ways. One, we have a tick box under each search that you can check to make it a private search. When you do that, nothing is recorded. The second layer is that after you type something into search, there’s a box you can check if you decide you don’t want people to see the search. There’s a delay, so no one will ever see that search, either. And third, on the highest level, there’s no identity attached to the hottest searches, so no one knows who is searching for what.

As far as contacting people in your network, there is an email icon next to who did the search last that you can click to contact that person. It doesn’t identify who that person is. It’s only if that person chooses to email you back that you know his or her identity.

iMedia Connection: This taps into two very hot commodities right now, search and social networks. Is there something to that?

Ryan: Yes, those are both hot and the timing is nice, but this isn’t something that we just came up with. One of our parent companies, SLI Systems, Inc., has been doing search technology for more than six years, receiving more than 300 million queries a month, and the other company, RealContacts Ltd., has been working in the social networking field for two and a half years. So together we’ve done a lot of research and testing before launching Eurekster.

iMedia Connection: What has response been like?

Ryan: We’re happy with how the market has reacted. A number of people are interested in partnering, that’s a good sign. We never expect to be a big destination site, or to compete with other search engines. We’re supplemental to them. So we’re happy with how people are reacting.

iMedia Connection: I see this as being valuable to work teams, not just friend networks.

Ryan: You’re right. If you have a team of people all working on one project they will frequently look on both the company intranet and the Internet for information relevant to the project. If these searches and the results are easily available to other members of the team this can save a lot of time and effort. It is an advanced form of knowledge management but all the users do not have to change their behavior—just search like usual using a Eurekster search box available only to their network or users.

iMedia Connection: What is the benefit to advertisers of having their sponsored links come up?

Ryan: The amplification effect. If you click on a paid listing and find it relevant, that listing will appear high up for all of your friends as well. It’s viral marketing to the nth degree. We’re quite excited about the long-term prospect of how advertisers can amplify their listings.

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