January 2008

How to use Vertical Search

by Jay Bhatti on January 25, 2008

Jay Bhatti, co-founder of Spock.com in Redwood City, Calif., was recently interviewed by Ziff Davis Enterprise Senior Technology Editor Wayne Rash. The topic was vertical search engines—a specialized means of searching that focuses on one topic as opposed to a general search engine such as Google that focuses on everything.

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One of the things that you’re really an expert in is vertical search. How would a company use vertical search in furthering the things they need to do in business?

Well, one of the things that we see vertical search doing really well is being very specific on understanding what people are looking for. A good example is when you go to Google and search for something, you’re going to get a very general result. However, when you’re looking for something very specific, like a company might be saying, “Hey, I need to book travel for my employees,” they might go to a site like Kayak. Or they might be like, “I need to find products for my company or my office,” and they might go to a site like Tofind.com. Or a company’s like, “I need to hire employees. I need to look for candidates. I need to do some businessdevelopment deals,” [and] they go to a site like Spock.com. Vertical search, I think, really does a good job of helping companies narrow in on the specific thing that they want to take action on at that point. One thing that semantic search engines do really well is that idea of providing utility, but also very transactional utility because with a lot of vertical search, you’re trying to do something, but you’re trying to get a transaction done. So whether it’s purchasing an airline ticket, buying a product or reaching out and being able to communicate with someone, you’re doing something that’s very transactional, but also at the same time very utilitarian. Whereas a general search engine like a Google or a Yahoo provides a very [high] utility value, but maybe not a transactional value for a business.

How does a company go about finding a vertical search engine that’s going to meet their specific requirements?

First and foremost, it’s kind of like, what are your specific needs? It’s pretty easy when you’re thinking travel. [There are] a lot of vertical search engines about travel, and you could go about and find some. I think the best way to find them is to just go on a general search engine like Google and type in “travel,” or “cheap tickets” or something like that. And it’ll say, “Hey, these three search engines are the best.” Or go to Google and type in product search, or people search or something of that equation, and you will quickly find what semantic search engines are the highest-ranked for those types of queries that you’re looking for. So actually the best way to find a vertical search is really to use a general search engine and type in the type of query that you’re looking for.

So you can actually use a search engine to find the search engine?

Yeah, exactly. You won’t find search results of the search engine that you’re looking for, but you’ll find the search engine itself. So if a lot of people, for example, are talking about Spock and saying Spock is the people search engine on the Web, and there are a lot of blog posts about it, and a lot of blog articles, a lot of links to Spock.com, Google’s going to capture that. So when you then eventually go to Google and type in people search, or people records, or something like that, the first link or the first couple of links might be Spock.com. Same thing with products, or the same thing with travel search, same thing with any other type of vertical search that you might be doing.

So if I needed to rent office space I could go to Google and look for office space rentals and I would find search engines that specialized in rentals?

Exactly. You might find a search engine like Rent.com. I don’t qualify them as search engines; they’re more directory. But then you will quickly find search engines out there that have compiled aggregate information across the Web on just office space, for example. It shouldn’t take you too long to do that using a general search engine.

What is the benefit to me as a business owner of using such specialized vertical search engines?

I think they do a really good job of getting the details that you’re looking for. I’ll give you two examples that are really valid. For example, if I’m doing a people search … say I’m hiring someone and I want to look up someone on the Web, which is a very common thing that people do now, or I might be doing business with someone and I want to look them up on the Web, I type their name in on a general search engine and I might get 100 results back. And some of them might be some other person with the same name. So I get a mediocre result on a general search engine. Whereas if I go to a specific vertical search, I’ll type in a person’s name, and I’ll be like, “All right, I’ve got 10 results here, but those 10 results are filtered by a unique person.” And it can be like, “Hey, yep, that’s the person I’m looking for, and here are the 10 most relevant links to that person that exist on the Web.” So you get a very good result without having to do a lot of the investigation work. Same thing with travel. I might go to a vertical travel site and say, “Search across the entire Internet and find me the best travel from New York to L.A.” They’ll get you a very specific result back and save you a lot of the effort that you would normally do by yourself. They’ll do the work for you and you get the top specific results that you’re looking for. Without these search engines existing, for people search you’d have to say, “OK, is this John Smith or is that John Smith? Are they the same person? I can’t tell.” Or you’d be like, “Hey, I have to go to Expedia, I have to go to Orbitz.” Or they go to, you know, six other Web sites and then manually type in stuff and search for the right deal and still might not get every site that offers the best deal out there. Vertical searches really help you take a lot of the work off your shoulders and make sure that you have a comprehensive experience.

And how much of a danger to a business is there that the results of these vertical engines will be somehow skewed either because the companies being searched for are paying for better placement, or there’s some other aspect that skews the results?

I think one of the most important things, and one of the things we found with our company especially, is that people read the “about” page a lot. And what happens is that people will always e-mail us saying, you know, “Are the results here algorithmic? Are they pure, or are you artificially inflating some results over others because people are paying for them?” And I think a lot of these vertical search engines have taken the cue from Google. And Google said, “The main results that we show are purely algorithmic. There’s no bias in there. It’s completely based on computers, programs and algorithms that we created.” So people have a lot of confidence that when they type something in Google that the first couple of results are actually the most relevant on the Web. And a lot of other vertical search engines have taken that same cue and said, “That’s what the consumer wants. They want to see relevant results that are unbiased.” And a lot of vertical search engine sites do say, “We do not play favorites. Our goal is to aggregate information and to make it very easy for you to digest and make sure that you have a comprehensive experience.” And then you can decide what place you want to go to do your specific thing on that vertical engine, whether it’s travel, looking for people or a product search.

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Remember the days before Google existed?  How hard was to find information on the web about something you wanted to look-up?  I remember when search was considered a dead category.  Pundits said there was no way to make money from search, so why invest in it.  Internet executives said search was something that drove people to other websites, so why even build a search engine. That is why Yahoo, Excite, MSN and other popular portals of the 1990’s placed search bars at the bottom of the page — to keep users on their property.

The sad truth was that since people did not know what they were missing, as no one could deliver the entire web to them, they didn’t complain.  It was like living in a cave, ignorant of not only what was outside, but even that there was an outside.

When Google came along in 1999, they placed a high emphasis on technology, delivered a great user experience, and intelligently indexed the entire web.  Move ahead to 2008, and many people don’t remember what search was like before Google and how people were able to discover information in the “dark ages”.

In early 2007, people search was in the same position as search was in 1997.  Not many companies or sites placing an emphasis on deep technology, a great user experience, or indexing everyone in the world.  Much of people search today is fragmented, closed, and in silos; just like search was in 1997.  Even more, much of people search exists in the dark. Not many people know all the great information that exists in the world about people, and how we are all connected.

Spock came along in 2007 with a mission to create a search result of everyone in the world and make it freely accessible.  With our emphasis on user experience, using great technology along with great community contribution, and our focus on people search, hopefully, someday in the future, when people think about learning more about someone else, they will think of Spock first.

Just like there was with search, there are critics of people search who question its utility. You could stay in the cave, but I’d encourage you to try and imagine the possibilities that the future of people search holds.  A great people search engine can enrich your knowledge of people in your life – and your own life as well.

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Spock In Wired Top 10 Start-ups of 2008

by Jay Bhatti on January 18, 2008

Wired Top 10 Startups Worth Watching in 2008
by Julie Sloane | December 24, 2007 | PDF of Article

Everyone loves being ahead of the times, whether you were the first of your friends to wear Hammer Pants, rock a mullet, or invest a few dollars in some obscure company called Microsoft. As a Spock user you can be confident that you are apart of something unique as Spock was recently named one of Wired Magazines Top 10 Startups Worth Watching in 2008“. Make all of your friends jealous that you discovered Spock first by inviting them to sign up. While you’re at it, check out our press page to see what other fine publications have said about us.

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Spock: The People Search Wiki

by Jay Bhatti on January 8, 2008

Search_insider Spock: The People Search Wiki
by David Berkowitz | January 8, 2008 | PDF of Article

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What The Heck Is Spock?

by Jay Bhatti on January 3, 2008

Mitch Wagner of Information Week takes a look at Spock.com:

I’ve been getting dozens of e-mail invitations recently from people on a new social networking service called Spock. Then I started getting another batch of e-mails asking, “What the heck is Spock?” So I called the Spock team to find out.

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A Chat with Spock Co-Founder Jay Bhatti

by Jay Bhatti on January 2, 2008

This week we chat with Jay Bhatti, the Co-Founder of Spock. Prior to Spock, Jay worked at Microsoft in product management. Jay obtained his MBA from the Wharton School, and did his undergraduate in Systems Engineering from Rutgers University.  PDF Version

ASE: Hi Jay, welcome!

Jay Bhatti: Thanks for having me.

ASE: Where does the name- Spock- come from?

Jay Bhatti: Spock stands for “single point of contact by keyword.”

ASE: Prior to Spock you worked at Microsoft. What’s the most valuable lesson you learned there and how have you applied it at Spock?

Jay Bhatti: Best thing I learned at Microsoft was how to hire great people. When Jaideep (Spock’s co-founder and CEO) and I started Spock, we placed hiring great people as our #1 priority, and I used what I learned at Microsoft to make that happen.

ASE: How did Spock come about? What was the inspiration?

Jay Bhatti: Spock came about due to our frustration on how hard it was to search for information about people – especially the frustration with our ability to keep up to date with the people in our lives and what they were doing.

Think about this – how many people do you know who went to your high school and live in New York City? You probably would have to think really hard or research a lot of different sites to learn that information. With Spock, we want to make it possible for you to do that search within .5 seconds and get a great answer.

ASE: How is Spock different from PeekYou?

Jay Bhatti: Spock is a search engine and we place a great emphasis on search and click-offs to other sites that we index. We are really big on deep science and technology. Many other good companies like PeekYou are taking a different approach and building their index with a greater focus on social networking engagement. So our strategies are very different. We feel that our investments on deep science and scale will pay off in the long run.

ASE: Who is your target audience? How are you targeting them?

Jay Bhatti: Everyone in the world is our audience. Every day people are doing searches for other people.

ASE: Do you have a marketing budget?

Jay Bhatti: We do not have any marketing budget. We made a real big focus on growing organically with the quality of the product. So, all of our traffic is direct and we are letting our product speak for itself.

ASE: What is Spock’s most unique/valuable feature?

Jay Bhatti: Great people search is our best feature overall. One thing that users really love is the ability to quickly find the people in their address books (gmail, outlook, etc) on the web.

ASE: Please talk about the proliferation of personal information and privacy on the web. Any concerns about having so much personal info readily available to the world?

Jay Bhatti: We do not display personal information on Spock (such as people’s email, IM, phone number, etc). We are also only showing public information that is on the open web. So, we do not have a privacy issues like other sites. In addition, we see that people are now a LOT more open to placing information on the web as opposed to keeping it hidden. The world is moving to more openness and more sharing of information about them. We thing that people now understand the best way to protect privacy is to know where you are on the web, and Spock makes that possible.

ASE: What’s your five year plan for Spock?

Jay Bhatti: To be the #1 people search engine in the world. Whenever someone in the future thinks about looking up a person (celebrity or regular person), their first thought should be Spock.

ASE: Thanks, Jay! Best of luck to you and Spock!

Natalya Murakhver is a freelance writer/PR consultant based in New York City.

AltSearchEngines is looking for a sponsor for this feature. Your company’s logo, tag line, and link would appear here after every profile. Please email Charles@ReadWriteWeb.com for more information.

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IPhone & Spock to Inspire in 2008

by Jay Bhatti on January 2, 2008

Washington_times IPhone likely to inspire in 2008
by Mark Kellner | January 1, 2008 | PDF

What to expect from computer technology this year? The words of Heraclitus of Ephesus come to mind: “Nothing endures but change.” In other words, things will be different this year, but how much so?

Some predictions, which I may wish to forget 12 months hence: It seems the greatest change is likely to come in terms of hand-held devices — smartphones and the like. Apple’s IPhone, mentioned here last week as a category-changing product, will inspire other makers to revise and update their products. Microsoft, reportedly, is going to incorporate IPhone-like features in its Windows Mobile operating system, for example.

Another emphasis is likely to be in the area of personal computer security. We’ve had too many problems to think otherwise, and firms such as Symantec and others will work to make things better in this vital area. I would expect more in the way of online protections, too, as phishing is on the rise.

I’ll confess that I finally “get” the whole social networking concept and will predict more growth and less rockiness for services such as Facebook. It’s too much to hope, however, that MySpace users will refrain from their tendency to produce some of the most garish and eye-abusing Web pages in the brief history of the Internet. There are other sites worth investigating, such as www.spock.com, which takes social connections in a different direction, and still more will likely emerge in the next year or two.

The major operating systems in use by the majority of computer users won’t change all that much. We had, in 2007, the arrival of Microsoft’s Windows Vista and Apple’s Mac OS X Leopard. There will be, as noted last week, slight revisions to both of these but not much more. Unless the people behind Linux come up with something, it’ll be a rather complacent year OS-wise.

At the same time, there could be a big “change,” in that more and more people will end up using both Vista and Leopard on a daily basis this year. They’ll have to, given that more and more computers will be sold with one of these systems. Windows users might still be able to buy computers with Windows XP, but users of new Macs have only Leopard as an option. My sense is that once the “service pack” for Vista is released, and should no major flaws appear, users will flock to Vista.

The major applications will remain stable this year, with the exception of Microsoft’s Office for Mac, which will appear in a new version two weeks from today. Adobe Systems Inc., revised its applications last year, although a new consumer product or two will likely bow this year. Quicken’s home and small-business applications will undergo their annual new releases in the fall. But that’s about it, given that Microsoft’s Office 2007 was the much-anticipated arrival of the past year.

There are niche markets where there may well be spectacular advances in software during 2008, but I’d be surprised if any of the major categories show much. The only possible exception is the “Software-as-a-Service,” or “SaaS” category that puts applications on the Web and on mobile devices. A lot seems to be happening here, with companies such as Google and Microsoft each promoting their online offerings.

In terms of hardware, I wonder if 2008 will not be the year of the Tablet PC, at least in some circles. Tablets that are thin, light and powerful are now in vogue, and their capabilities and price-points are reasonable enough for many to consider.

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