When the research analysts at Hitwise, Nielsen, and Compete release their monthly search engine rankings, you can sometimes feel their pain in covering the same story over and over again. Check out Jeremy Crane's latest post on Compete's blog where he tries to lighten things up by talking about his wife's birthday (happy belated, Mrs. C.!) and laments in the headline, "Microhoo gets boring." I feel your pain, Jeremy. That's why we'll mix it up a little this week and focus on eight search-related startups.
Note that this list is random. There's no methodology -- no ranking by buzz, funds raised, visitors, customers, parties thrown at SXSW, or volume of schwag sent my way (though the schwag's always welcome). These are companies that caught my radar at some point or another, whether through a news article, blog post, word of mouth, or personal contact from them, and they all shed a bit of light on where search is heading.
NearbyNow: Search for products at a shopping mall near you, and you can reserve them for in-store pickup. This local search player aims to close the loop between online shopping and offline buying. For shoppers who like the convenience of malls but don't want to spend all day there, this should find a receptive audience.
ManagedQ: This visual search engine responds to your query with a matrix of snapshots of the relevant sites. It takes me far longer to scan this layout than a standard page of text results, though I do like the related person/place/thing tags to the left.
Quintura: Alongside the natural search engine results is a tag cloud showing related keywords and phrases to help you explore more. For me, this only slows down the search process, though I'll keep an open mind. Quintura for Kids may be more useful, but a search on ‘new york governor' turned up just one result that seemed to be about former governor George Pataki, and a search on ‘eliot spitzer' turned up no results. At least that means there are no Emperor's Club screen shots.
blippr: Search is only a small part of what blippr does, but it plays an important role in this new social search engine. You rate books, movies, music, and games, write a brief reason for your rating (at most 160 characters) and invite friends to take part so that it delivers personalized recommendations. Search the site for Indiana Jones and it brings up several DVDs to rate, along with friends who rated it. It sounds like many other sites and Facebook applications, but it's strangely addictive, and it's still in beta.
Dipiti: Users search for support and assistance on this meta-message board search engine that focuses on health, legal, money, and pet care. It pulls from an impressive array of communities, but with engines like this, the question remains whether they're too specialized for a mass market. When you have a pet problem, do you want to find a community, or do you just want an answer wherever it is? In the latter example, a regular search engine should suffice.
Silobreaker: Have you ever thought that news search results were good, but not cluttered enough? Enter Silobreaker, which provides a higher grade of link smack for news junkies. Say you're searching for news on Eliot Spitzer, in the event that he's done something newsworthy lately. Querying Silobreaker brings up way more information than you can possibly process: a biographical snapshot, top stories from an array of sources, blogs, YouTube video clips featuring breaking news, a chart showing article volume over the past month, links to related topics (David Paterson, Emperor's Club), a network map showing how those topics are connected, hotspots showing geographically where the news comes from, trends for news on Spitzer and related people (Paterson and Hillary Clinton), and quotes. Clearly this is overkill for many people, but others will be hooked.
Mosio: Send a text message query and it's answered by the community of other users. I used it last year to ask for recommendations for the song to use for my wedding's first dance, and while I like to think I did a little better than their answers (come on, John Denver?), a number of thoughtful responses came back instantly.
ChaCha: This search engine was better for entertainment purposes than actual search value, but now it has a mobile component that makes it incredibly useful. You text CHA CHA (242 242) from your cell with a question and a real person sends you a response with all the relevant info, assuming someone can answer it. For instance, if you're the governor of one of the most populous states in the Union, you're on the Amtrak to D.C., and you need to know how to get in touch with the Emperor's Club, just text 242 242 "What's the number for the Emperor's Club?" and someone will write you with the phone number. I tried this myself and the respondent said, "The prostitution ring known as the Emperor's Club has not made its contact information available online."
Governors must use some other sort of search engine. While I'm not sure which one Spitzer might have used, there's an engine out there for any query you can imagine.