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Will Kosmix be Google's nemesis?

March 20, 2009 04:14 IST

The US media world is suddenly agog with reports of Kosmix, a start up that could change the way people search the web, which also could be a potential threat to search engines like Google or Yahoo.

In a span of less than three weeks Now York Times wrote two articles, again showing the importance of Kosmix.

But Venky Harinarayan, co-founder of the company with fellow Chennai native Anand Rajaraman, does not see it as a threat to anyone, but as making the information on the web more user-friendly.

The company is funded by Jeff Bezos of Amazon among others.

"Currently the web is like the Library of Alexandria, which contains all the knowledge humanity has acquired. How do we find them and utilise them is the problem. Kosmix tries to help the consumers in this," he said.

"Our focus is to locate the knowledge and help the consumer to find the right one. We do not focus on other companies or competition," he said.

It is not about finding the best set of documents for a specific keyword or phrase. The goal is to tell more about something, he explained.

A key word search on Google will produce hundreds of results and the consumer can go through only a few of them.

But when you search the same in Kosmix, it will gather content from across the web and show a page 'a sort of multimedia encyclopaedia entry on the fly.' 

For example search for rediff.com and you will get a lot different content, photos and videos and links. It also has top results from Google, and suggests a list of related topics.

"Kosmix gives more information about any subject. Check India Abroad or American Idol, you will immediately understand why," he noted.

'For many queries, the results are pretty satisfying and look as if they have been compiled by a human editor, not a computer,' the New York Times commented.

He said Kosmix is not a competitor to Google or Yahoo. 'Search does what it does well, very well. I don't think we can ever compete with that,' was his comment. He said even if search engines like Google or Yahoo were not in existence, still then Kosmix could have done its work well.

New York Times says that if Kosmix succeeds, it will affect the media companies more and not Google. Kosmix's home page offers a mix of news, entertainment and other content from around the Web. One can personalize the news content. The new program 'meehive' has attracted much attention.

Kosmix has a specialised technology for its service. It has created a set of nearly five million categories on various topics. When someone searches on Kosmix, it automatically knows on which category the information may have.

It takes content from web sites as well as from specialised Web services, and databases connected to the Internet.

'With the explosion of information on the Web, it is very hard to have an editorial function with only humans. We are giving you an automated editor for any topic,' Harinarayanan commented.

That's where Kosmix could become a headache for media companies. Kosmix delivers pages that are often as detailed and relevant as those that media companies spend small fortunes creating -- especially those in popular and lucrative categories like travel, sports, health or electronics, the Times noted.

It creates no content, but drives people to other sites. 'But if it establishes itself as a major online destination, it will also compete with them,' Times noted.

Before releasing Kosmix, the company put the same technology for a service called Right Health, which became the second-most-visited health site, after WebMD in a year.

Kosmix is part of the new ventures that search the 'Deep Web'. Many experts say that the current search engines look at the tip of the iceberg. The new breed of search engines may bring out exact answers for questions the user may ask. Currently the crawlers (or spiders) gather information following the trails of hyperlinks.

'The crawlable Web is the tip of the iceberg. Most search engines try to help you find a needle in a haystack but what we're trying to do is help you explore the haystack,' Rajaraman told the Times.

The company has 60 employees in two offices in California. It makes money out of advertising.

Harinarayanan and Rajaraman co-founded Kosmix in 2005 with the vision to connect people to the information that makes a difference in their lives. Both earlier developed the e-commerce search engine, Junglee, which was acquired by Amazon.com in 1998 for $250 million.

At Amazon, they created the company's search and marketplace business. In addition to Kosmix, Harinarayanan is a principal at Cambrian Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm. He is a graduate of Stanford University and the Indian Institute of Technology.

Rajaraman is a consulting assistant professor in the Computer Science Department at Stanford University and a founding partner of Cambrian Ventures. He helped create Amazon's marketplace business, which today accounts for over 30 per cent of Amazon's gross merchandise sales. He holds a bachelor's degree in Computer Science from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and a PhD in Computer Science from Stanford University.

George Joseph in New York
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