As desktop search heats up, a San Francisco-based startup is hoping to leapfrog its bigger competitors by rethinking the way search results are retrieved and organized.
In releasing Version 2.0 of its search tool on Monday, Blinkx Inc. took aim at the folder system in Windows. It introduced a feature called “smart folders,” where users can automatically populate a folder with Web and local content based on the context of the documents in the folder or a description of the folders purpose.
Blinkx, which first launched in July, takes a different tack to search. Rather than using keywords, it returns results as a user is viewing a Web page, working on a document or reading an e-mail.
Blinkx, available as a free download, installs a mini tool bar across Windows applications and Web browsers and an application for pairing hard-drive searches of e-mails and documents with Web, news, Weblog, shopping and video search. The tool bar includes six icons, where search results are continuously returned based on the context of what is on a users screen.
With its introduction of smart folders, Blinkx has added another way to access search results. Users can set up smart folders either by adding documents and files about a given subject into the folder or entering a string of text in its setup. By analyzing the text of the files, the smart folders then create shortcuts to relevant content, said Suranga Chandratillake, co-founder and chief technology officer at Blinkx.
“Smart folders are about how to take the static-folder world and give it more life,” Chandratillake said.
Local content is updated every three minutes in smart folders, while Web content is updated every half-hour when a user is online, Chandratillake said.
Smart folders is one of two new features where Blinkx is delivering technology on concepts long discussed by industry leaders such as Microsoft Corp. and Apple Computer Inc., Chandratillake said.
The other is “Stuff Ive Seen,” a feature in the Blinkx desktop application that refines results based on recently viewed content. If it sounds reminiscent of a project from Microsoft, its because it is similar. Microsoft researchers also have demonstrated a search project under the same name.
In the new version, Blinkx also has expanded the types of content it supports. It integrated search into peer-to-peer networks so users can find files, audio and video. Blinkx only allows users to download, not share, content through its application, Chandratillake said.
Blinkx also runs its own Web index, which has grown to about 1.5 billion documents, Chandratillake said. While its tool defaults to its Web results, users can choose to retrieve results instead from leading search engines such as Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Microsofts MSN division.
To generate revenue, Blinkx plans to include sponsored links in results and with revenue sharing through its shopping search results, but neither is live yet.
The small company does not want to compete directly against the growing number of desktop search tools coming from the large search engines. Google has released a beta of its desktop search, while both Microsofts MSN division and Yahoo have said they also are working on products in the space.
Blinkx wants to focus on being a step ahead by bringing the concept of implicit search, where users arent required to enter queries, to more and more information-management problems, Chandratillake said.
“A year and a half ago, when we sat down to do this, it was easy to realize that desktop search would be an area that would commoditize quickly,” he said. “Technologically, we wanted to do something different.”