Startup Melds Search With Social Networks

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A new search engine launches today that combines algorithmic search with social networking, two of the hottest technologies in the Internet space.


Eurekster is the combined effort of social networking company RealContacts and search technology company SLI Systems. It claims to be the first search engine to use social networks, which gather information from a user's circle of friends and contacts, to improve search results.


Eurekster takes results provided by Yahoo subsidiary Overture Services' FAST unit and tailors them to a user based on his previous search history and those of Eurekster users in his network. Eurekster also will return Overture's paid listings to generate revenue.


"Search is going to evolve, it's not going to stop here," said Grant Ryan, Eurekster's chief executive. "It's inevitable there's going to be new search technologies."


Ryan said search has evolved from AltaVista's meta-tag search to Yahoo's directory approach to Google's link-popularity algorithm. The next step, he said, is to add the power of social networks, which have proven most popular for online dating through sites like Friendster.


Eurekster lets searchers see the most popular searches for all users and for those in their network. Once users join Eurekster, they can invite others to their search networks. Though the search engine's algorithm uses searches to compile search results, it does not build profiles of searchers or share their search information with others, Ryan said. Users also can choose to conduct private searches, which are not included in the top searches or network searches list.


"This is such a natural, everyday process," he said. "We always filter information through people we know and trust."


Eurekster uses social networking technology developed by Ryan's other company, RealContacts, which has focused on the employment space. RealContacts launched its jobs service in New Zealand in early 2002. Eurekster also taps search personalization technology of San Francisco-based SLI, which provides search technology to NBC, Veritas and The Excite Network. SLI originally powered search on NBC's Snap.com portal.


The idea of melding search and social networks is not new. Friendster turned down a Google acquisition offer for $30 million this autumn, according to published reports. Friendster drew 1.4 million unique visitors in December, according to comScore Media Metrix.


For now, Eurekster will depend on its site and a toolbar search application for distribution. Steven Marder, a founder of SLI and chairman of Eurekster, said the company would occupy the middle ground of search and social networks, potentially attracting the larger search engines while also giving social networks a way to make money off paid listings.


"We believe this is the next step, the next generation of search," he said.


Thanks to the popularity of Friendster, social networks have drawn attention for their potential use in other areas, from classifieds to job listings. Last month, social network Tribe Networks closed a $6.3 million financing round that included The Washington Post Co. and Knight Ridder.


Brian Morrissey covers search marketing for DM News.com. To keep up with the latest search marketing news subscribe to our free e-mail weekly newsletter Search Engine Marketing by visiting www.dmnews.com/cgi-bin/newslettersub.cgi .


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