Search Startup Blinkx Aims High - InformationWeek

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9/30/2004
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Search Startup Blinkx Aims High

Company claims a million downloads in three months of its search software, which scans the Web for pages relevant to documents you're working on

Sometime soon, Amazon.com, Apple Computer, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo may realize that a San Francisco startup named Blinkx has found what they've been looking for: a better way to search.

The company plans to release within the next two weeks Blinkx 2.0, which incorporates many of the hard-drive searching capabilities that Apple, Google, and Microsoft also are developing. A beta version is out now. Blinkx's software, which is free, provides a toolbar that appears in applications such as Microsoft Office and Outlook, and Web browsers including Internet Explorer and Mozilla.

The toolbar can generate both proactive searches, which require keyword or full-sentence queries, and reactive searches, which deliver results based on an automatic summary of a document's contents that the software generates, without any interaction by the user. Version 1 came out in July, and Blinkx already claims nearly a million downloads.

"Considering that they've just been out in the market for a couple of months and they've done very little, if any, marketing, I think it's pretty significant," says Patrick Mahoney, an analyst at tech consulting company the Yankee Group. Mahoney has even begun using the software himself. "When they were demonstrating it to me," he says, "I was thinking about conversations I had with MSN and Yahoo and other people. It just seems like they're a step ahead of the big guys."

Blinkx can search a variety of file formats, including Microsoft Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Word; Adobe's PDF; plus JPEG, video, and MP3 music files. And Blinkx searches can be aimed at specific "channels," including local files; news, shopping, and business sites; and Weblogs. The company also plans to add peer-to-peer MP3 file searching and Mac support.


Kathy Rittweger, Blinkx's co-founder and marketing director, hopes one day Blinkx will become a synonym for search.

Kathy Rittweger hopes one day Blinkx will become a synonym for search.
The major Internet search players are moving in a similar direction. Microsoft has previewed a new MSN.com desktop search tool slated for release next year. Apple is working on technology called Spotlight--to be included in its Mac OS X version 10.4 next year--that lets users search the contents and metadata of documents, E-mail, address-book entries, and image files. Spotlight can make searching "smarter, more flexible, and powerful," according to Apple.

Google and Yahoo are reportedly working on desktop search tools. And Amazon recently debuted its own search site, A9.com.

"We're definitely aware of the competition," says Kathy Rittweger, Blinkx's co-founder and marketing director. "But the genesis of this was based on human need." Blinkx is close to unveiling advertising deals that could generate revenue, she says.

Blinkx version 2 delivers a substantial improvement over version 1 in terms of the relevance of results delivered, the number of document types searched, and ease of use. But when it comes to Web searches, Google is still more relevant. "Google has some patents that make their search technology superior," analyst Mahoney says.

Rittweger says she hopes people will one day use "Blinkx" as a synonym for "search," as they now do with Google. That could be a long time coming though.

"It will take awhile, and they'll have some very steep hills to climb because you do have these very strong incumbents," Mahoney says. "But if they can prove their value proposition in an effective way, I think that more and more consumers will start to use it through word of mouth. That's basically how Google got so popular so quickly."

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