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.
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.
Perhaps Snaps biggest departure from other search engines is its decision to reveal details of how it works and operates. Gross touted its transparency, along with its basis on a huge sampling of data, as a superior way to prevent the spamming of search results by sites that use techniques to gain higher result rankings.
“We think that complete transparency will lead to a new search experience for the advertiser but, more importantly, for the user,” he said during a conference presentation. “Its very difficult to spam these things because these are the aggregate usage of millions of users.”
Gross and Idealab were behind one of searchs big success stories, Overture Services. Last year, Yahoo bought Overture for $1.6 billion. Overture is credited with helping to usher in the growing popularity of the pay-per-click search ads that typically appear alongside Web results.
With Snap, Gross is bringing together advertising within regular search results but in a way different from paid-inclusion programs. Even when a site advertises, its positioning is not based on top bids for a keyword but on relevancy, Gross said.
One variable in the relevancy is a sites conversion rate, whether based on purchases of products from an e-commerce site or subscriptions to a content site. The higher the conversion rate, the higher the possible positioning.
Conversion rates also will be publicly available, listed in a column within search results, so that users can see for themselves, Gross said.
Advertisers can choose one of six methods for calculating their spending that include paying per click along with categories such as paying per transaction, per customer or per transaction.
Other information Snap is revealing directly through its site includes its revenues and how much advertisers are paying.
Snap combines existing Web indexes with data from its click-stream feed and advertisers to draw its results. It uses Web indexes from LookSmart Ltd. and Gigablast, Gross said.
“Someday we might make our own crawl, but the problem with search today is not breadth but relevancy,” Gross said.
Idealabs search launch was the first of a series of new companies set to be unveiled during this weeks Web 2.0 conference. Web entrepreneurs and founders of one-time dot-com darlings such as Excite are scheduled to introduce their new ventures during the event, which runs through Thursday.