Idealab Rethinks Web Search with Snap

The incubator, best-known from the dot-com boom, launches a search-engine startup with an eye on re-sorting results and exposing the engine's inner workings.

SAN FRANCISCO—Bill Gross, the man behind Overture Services and the Idealab incubator, wants to reinvent Web search.

During the Web 2.0 conference here on Tuesday, Gross unveiled search-engine Snap, which has combined terabytes of click-stream data and advertising conversions rates to remodel search-result relevancy.

Gross said that Snap, available in a public beta, is focused on "search productivity" by letting users control the way results are sorted, by including user feedback into relevancy and by opening the inner workings of the engine.

"The problem we see in search is that it takes too long to find what you are looking for," said Gross, chairman and CEO of Pasadena, Calif.-based Idealab, during an interview.

Using technology licensed from fellow Idealab company X1 Technologies Inc., Snap lets users refine results in real time by entering more specific terms within a separate query box.

As an example, Gross demonstrated how a user typing in a search for "Jaguar" would receive hundreds of results but could home in on those dealing with the Macintosh operating system by typing "OS" into the query.

Unlike the way links are displayed on top Web search engines such as Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc., Snap sorts them into a chart more akin to an e-mail inbox.

From there, users can re-sort the results by clicking on various column headings. The sorting options include reorganizing by domain, by link popularity—which is based on the number of visits to the link—and by user satisfaction, which is based on page-view visits.

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Snap has analyzed click-stream data gathered from about 1 million anonymous Web users since January 2004 through a deal with ISPs. It feeds into the search engines relevancy such as in the popularity and satisfaction sorting, Gross said.

Gross views the service as oriented more toward power searchers and those dissatisfied with the ability to decipher results from existing engines. Snap also has a focus on shopping-focused search.

For its beta launch, Snap has created structured data around three types of products—digital cameras, MP3 players and laptops, said Snap CEO Tom McGovern. The result is that a search for "digital cameras" not only returns Web results but a table above them that lists camera and lets users reorder them based on criteria such as the manufacturer or specifications.

Snap plans to expand the product data and allow manufacturers to feed in structured data, Gross said.

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