Just using Google? Don't cheat yourself

In prepping for my meeting this week with Vivisimo CEO Raul Valdes-Perez, I gave the company's Clusty (http://clusty.com/) consumer search engine a whirl (Clusty is a sort of carrot dangled to attract potential customers to the company's enterprise search and recovery technology).

First I popped Valdes-Perez's name into the search box, and received a list of hits on the right side of my screen, like you might see in any search engine: His bio from the Carnegie-Mellon University Web site, a Q&A with him from a search engine site and his profile on the Vivisimo site. On the left, I received a "clustering" of other links automatically categorized under headings such as "Scientific, Discovery," "President, Founder," and "Pittsburgh" (where the company resides). In other words, I could see a lot more about him on one screen than I could with a typical search.

(I had a less satisfying experience when I plugged my own name into the search box: up came entries on an Australian senator who made waves as the first openly homosexual member of Parliament and another on a car dealer in Iowa. Clustered on the left were headings such as "Runner," "Books," and "Photos." Nothing about me, though I don't hold this against Clusty. My parents get the blame on that one.)

Anyway, to make a short story long, when I met with Valdes-Perez it wasn't long before he sent me on a guilt trip for being satisfied with the "incomplete results" shown by Google and other search engines on the first page of a computer screen. He argued that searchers like me are typically exposed to just the really popular pages, but not necessarily the most useful ones, which are probably a few pages down on the search results. I couldn't deny it.

It's this idea of delivering the most useful or valuable results that this profitable and private company stresses with its enterprise Velocity search technology as well. The server-based technology is designed to crawl through applications, data sources and other search engines to gather results and categorize them, and this week Vivisimo announced improved connectivity between its offering and applications supporting open Web technologies such as RSS and Atom. Sometimes customers replace other search technologies with Velocity and sometimes they use it as an overlay, Valdes-Perez says.

Customers such as the U.S. government use Vivisimo's technology to highlight the "high value information" that they really want Web visitors to see, Valdes-Perez says. At the government's site (http://www.firstgov.gov), for example, FAQs are given prominence in searches because the government has put a lot of effort into creating them in order to answer common questions, he says. At a hospital, doctors' bios would be the top items found through searches, he says.

The executive, who was in town to give a presentation at a search engine conference on his vision for dedicated vertical portals, or "vortals," says Vivisimo grew out of research conducted at Carnegie-Mellon University and got its funding from the National Science Foundation and the state of Pennsylvania. The idea for a better sort of search hit Valdes-Perez back in 1998 after listening to a presentation on video search during which he was left unsatisfied with the results of a Monica Lewinsky query. Valdes-Perez came to the conclusion that people and businesses were making snap judgments on important decisions based on limited data, and he and several other CMU researchers started the company in 2000.

Valdes-Perez counts only Google and Microsoft as other significant search players with consumer and enterprise offerings, though acknowledges Clusty doesn't have near the ad volume needed to make it a prominent consumer site.

"We agree with Google, though, that enterprise search will become more consumerized in terms of the user interface and interactivity," Valdes-Perez says.

Valdes-Perez says he expects Google and others will also adopt more of the clustering sort of technology in which his company specializes, though he stressed that developing such technology is far from simple.

In wrapping up this story, I figured I'd try one more Clusty search for kicks: "Network World." The results? Not bad. Several high references on the right, and this automatic category heading on the left that our marketing arm would surely love: "Network World publishes the leading newsweekly, Network World"

For the latest on network-oriented research at university and other labs, go to Network World's Alpha Doggs blog (http://www.networkworld.com/community/?q=alphadoggs)

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