Locking Up Data on Direct-Hit Web Searches

SAN MATEO (04/18/2000) - In the competitive search-engine space, the name of the game is Web site hits. AltaVista Co., HotBot, and Yahoo Inc. have all adopted a business model that depends on the number of hits they can garner every day.

ImageLock Inc. has put a twist on this business model. It provides in-depth analysis of Web sites and Web site hits for its customers by scouring the Web every 15 days for data.

InfoWorld Executive Producer/ New Media Katherine Bull sat down with ImageLock's CTO Ken Belanger to talk about the challenges it faces in the search-engine market.

InfoWorld: What does your job entail as CTO?

Belanger: My job is twofold. No. 1 is telling marketing and sales literally what we have technologywise and what we can practically do with that technology. No. 2 is making sure it's implemented correctly and that there's consistency throughout all our implementations and [that] we don't have a duplicative effort.

InfoWorld: What are the top three responsibilities you have?

Belanger: Talking with large customers, making sure the system is up and running, and designing the newest thing.

InfoWorld: What is your newest project?

Belanger: We're about to release the low-end [version] of our services. It's a service where you pay $19 to $49 a month for our services, and we basically monitor your Web site. There is also a low-end media product for marketing types and designers, and that's about $89 a month. Those are the two products we've been really focused on lately.

InfoWorld: AltaVista, Yahoo, and HotBot are all well-known search engines. How do you differentiate ImageLock from them when talking to customers?

Belanger: We have more data. AltaVista, for example, is a second-generation search engine, and they are locked in to older technology. And the other thing is, we're different because we cover 99 percent of the Web, and they only cover about 20 percent of the Web. Secondly, we do analysis. Chanel, for instance, is one of our customers, and this is what we do for Chanel: We say, 'Here are all the Web sites in America and Europe that use the Chanel logo, that are not selling perfume, and that are selling Chanel products.' Then I can tell them all the [sites] that are using the Chanel name, that are not selling perfume, and that are not selling [Chanel] products. They can then figure out who's using the Chanel name without permission. We can do all of that analysis, whereas other search engines can't.

InfoWorld: Where do you get the data from?

Belanger: We cover the entire Web, and about every 15 days we start at one end of the Web and go to the other end and visit every Web page that's public.

InfoWorld: Is 15 days often enough, or are you aiming to eventually do a weekly or daily search?

Belanger: We could technically do a daily search just by bringing in some more hardware. But there's Internet etiquette, and a lot of people would freak out if we did that because there's about half a percent of the sites on the Internet who don't like it when we visit. These are people who don't get much traffic; the people who get a lot of traffic could care less. Picture this:

You're a little guy, you put up your Web site, and no one comes and visits you.

Now some guy comes and visits you and looks at everything. And you're real excited until you find out it's just a search engine and not really people who are interested in what's on your site.

InfoWorld: Don't they see the benefit of your doing the search and the traffic potentially increasing to their site as a result of that?

Belanger: No, they don't see the benefit. First of all, they're annoyed because they feel tricked. They feel as if, 'We went and looked at our statistics for traffic, and the traffic has doubled on our site, but it turns out it was no one.' And the second issue, which is erroneous, is that they're going to have to pay more now. A lot of people have a cap on the number of bytes that they can use up every month for the site, and if they go over that cap they have to pay more to the ISP. In reality, it rarely happens. Where you really run into a problem is with the real little ISP guys who are selling to all these Web sites with the hope that no one ever uses all the bytes they are giving away. And now all of a sudden the sites are using them. And now the ISP is probably paying for real traffic.

InfoWorld: So how do you work together with the CEO of ImageLock? Are there ever any issues about balancing business and technology?

Belanger: He is an excellent business guy, so we are a real team. It's like a marriage, but we've almost gotten a divorce. We've settled, and we didn't get a divorce. I mean, you have to realize he put a bunch of money in it and I've put a bunch of money in it, and so we've gone through ups and downs. We went through the phase where nobody wanted us, to the phase where we've turned away several venture capitalists. So you have to understand, he takes care of the business, and he does a great job; he does things that are not in my skill set.

I definitely drive the technology, but everything is negotiable. We have a rule: I don't do things without talking to him first, and he does the same. And it really works out, because otherwise, the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. We are both involved in all decisions.

InfoWorld: What do you think are going to be some really hot technologies coming up that you're keeping an eye on?

Belanger: Well, from my point of view, what's really hot is bandwidth. And then the evolution of the telephone; eventually your phone's going to be history.

Your whole life is going to be through your computer.

InfoWorld: How do you think that's going to be achieved, and in what time frame?

Belanger: I'd say [in] five years. Infrastructure investments are the big players, and that's going to be carried on, once the utilities pick it up.

Homes are being built now with the infrastructure in place. And I think wireless will have a big impact on that as well. Wireless will allow us to connect the infrastructure in a way that will make any problems exchanging information completely obsolete.

Ken Belanger, ImageLock

Age 39

Title: Chairman and CTO

Biggest successes: Designed and deployed BitShark Crawler, which is capable of locating, digitally fingerprinting, and indexing digital media assets across the Internet, covering 99.9 percent of the Internet within seven daysKey challenges: Building and sustaining growth of ImageLock's technical infrastructure to maintain the rapid expansion of the company's services to meet the needs of its customersPersonal note: Enjoys squash, snowboarding, and paintball.

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