A new Internet search engine, dubbed "Congoo," gives people a free look at news articles that normally need a subscription to view. But when it launches in November, Congoo could be in for a year of searching dangerously.
Someone using Congoo to search for, say, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, receives links to articles from BusinessWeek, The Nation, FT.Com and The Wall Street Journal, according to a Congoo demonstration Web site. These are all subscription sites, yet the stories are made available for free.
The stories arent pilfered. Rather, they appear via agreements Congoo reaches with various powerhouse publishers, according to Chief Executive Officer Ash Nashed. Congoo also returns results like those youd see using Google, Yahoo, MSN or other major Internet portals. The company wouldnt say what publishers it is working with.
Taken in a broader context, Congoo is among a bevy of new "deep dive" search engines that could significantly change what youd expect to see in a typical search result. Even as the major search engines have expanded their indexes of the Web to as many as 8 billion documents, they are increasingly acknowledging that much of the worlds information is nowhere to be found in search results.
"We think Congoo could become like Google, a word you associate with a particular kind of Internet search," Nashed said.
But Congoo may be in for some rough times. Its underlying theory is that a sneak peak at life behind the subscription wall motivates people to buy a full-time pass and is therefore a boon for publishers. But any number of companies, including big names like peer-to-peer software maker Grokster and search portal Yahoo, have tried the same approaches in the past with tepid results.
Also, theres a heavy reliance on the charity of publishers. While some are more open than others, publishers in general are famously guarded about using free content as a lure. To make them more comfortable with a carrot-on-a-stick approach, Nashed said publishers signing up with Congoo get access to Congoo users registration information, which includes gender, zip code and e-mail address. These are all potentially very valuable marketing tools.
Meanwhile, theres the potential Napster effect. To some degree, Congoos technology, which includes tools to share results, hearkens back to the late 1990s and the rise of Napster and other file swap software makers that broke the recording industrys decades-old business model by distributing their music for free over the Internet.
Instead of a firestorm of people swapping music files, Nashed says theres a chance Congoo users could, in the vein of Napster, freely amass huge libraries of subscription content that theyd then trade with friends.
"There are things to worry about," Nashed said. "Can we 100 percent avoid fraud? The answer is no. But it wasnt a significant concern with the publishers we talked with. What we are doing is extremely legitimate, as opposed to what Napster and those other companies did."