Site Preview Software Highlights Interactivity

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Web extension start-up Cooliris Inc. aims to cut down on user click-through rates.

Recently released Cooliris Previews 1.8 lets PC and Mac users see underlying rich media content from Web links instantly without clicking or leaving the initial page. The free software, available at www.cooliris.com, has had about 300,000 downloads, though the company has no income yet. The software and the Web site are not ad-supported.

"We have several different business models that are holding right now," said Mayank Mehta, co-founder and vice president of products at Cooliris, Palo Alto, CA. "We just need to flick the switch."

The company, founded in January, reportedly has been in talks with some major portals for a possible partnership. One monetization option is to charge advertisers on a cost-per-view basis rather than cost-per-click.

"The preview improves ad relevancy," Mr. Mehta said. "People are able to know what link they are choosing."

Mr. Mehta and CEO Soujanya Bhumkar are Cooliris' co-founders. This is not the first technology venture for either entrepreneur. Mr. Bhumkar helped found evaluation software company Tamarind Inc. and consumer mobile-to-PC application provider Vazu Inc. Mr. Mehta is also co-founder of home automation company Ambient Technologies.

But Cooliris is unique for its ties to Stanford University. Two Stanford undergraduates comprised the second half of the company's initial four-person team.

"We joined when it was still in Flash demos," said Josh Schwarzapel, vice president of business development and a Stanford undergrad. He spoke for himself and Austin Shoemaker, chief technology officer and a computer science master's student. "It's hard to juggle this with coursework and classes but it's rewarding. I think being young, we bring a fresh perspective to the project."

Stanford doctoral candidates Larry Page and Sergey Brin went on to incorporate Google Inc. in September 1998. The company initially used no ads, putting its efforts into building out the technology, and only began selling keywords in 2000. And Cooliris, like Google, also looks to reshape the Internet landscape.

"Web to this day is very much tied to research," Mr. Schwarzapel said. "It still feels a lot like you are reading a book. People are slowly adding more Flash-based, video and interactive components to their sites. The Cooliris software accelerates that move to interactivity."

The software uses a PC's general processing unit to run the various rich media previews. This enables improved picture and video quality over what can be run inside a Web browser. This improves the browsing experience, and the simultaneous nature of images makes the experience much more interactive.

"If you look at interactive TV and the Web as it is today, you have interstitial text, graphics and video," Mr. Shoemaker said. "This software will ultimately make browsing more like watching TV by improving the richness, but with the user in control."

Other features of the software include the ability to send content in less than one second from the preview window, without opening a default e-mail program. Also, right clicking on any phrase on a page results in an automatic subsearch in Google, Wikipedia and other sites. The function can be enabled or disabled on any particular domain.

The company wants to expand its user base and focus on user experience before bringing in advertisers.

"We are razor focused on building a great product with a big user base," Mr. Schwarzapel said. "The general idea is that if you have a product that users are frequently using, there is a great platform to push targeted content."

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