Start-up launches social search engine

Eurekster combines search engine technology and popular online social networking to serve up personalized search results.

Take a pinch of Google and a dash of Friendster--and voila--you've got the makings of Eurekster, a new Internet search engine that combines traditional search engine technology with online social networking.

Eurekster, which officially launched Wednesday, is an Internet search engine that gets "smarter" with each use. Eurekster users invite friends via e-mail to join the search engine network, and the service learns from each search. Ultimately, it delivers personalized search results and shares popular Web destinations with an extended community of users.

The new service capitalizes on the growing success of social networking sites dedicated to making connections between people based on recommendations from friends. Friendster was one of the first such sites to launch. Copycat sites from other online companies have sprung up to compete with Friendster, including one from InterActiveCorp's Evite invitation service and Emode.

Eurekster takes the concept of social networking a step further. Instead of simply making connections between individuals, it helps people locate information that their friends and colleagues already find interesting. It also takes search engine technology to a new level by personalizing results, the company said.

Some analysts aren't sure if social networking and search engines are a good combination.

"The concept sounds good," said David Hallerman, a senior analyst with eMarketer. "But how do you make the social networks put forth the energy? With Friendster you are making personal connections. With a search engine you want the best information now. Google was only successful because it offered better results than anything else out there."

The service works like any other search engine by using keywords and algorithms to locate the most relevant Web sites for a given query. But it also ranks the results according to what interests people in a particular group.

For example, if someone in the group is looking for a digital camera, a Eurekster search might link to several different sites, including an official manufacturer's site with product specifications, a consumer site ranking different products, and a camera store that has information on where to buy the product. As a person clicks on each site, Eurekster records on which sites he or she has spent the most time. Using this information, the service determines the sites that appeared to be the most helpful.

When other members in the group look for a digital camera, the most popular and useful sites produced from the previous search will rise to the top. A symbol saying that someone else in the network found the site useful also will be posted next to the link.

"Online social networking makes perfect sense," said Grant Ryan, co-founder and CEO of Eurekster. "If you're looking for a doctor or information about going to Hawaii, you gather information from the people you know and trust."

In addition to the search, Eurekster lists the most popular Web destinations and searches among community members. People also can contact one another anonymously through e-mail to find out more about a particular topic.

Even if nobody else joins a particular community, Eurekster still has advantages over other search engines, Ryan said. Unlike other search engines, Eurekster remembers the last 20 or 30 searches and records the sites that have been the most helpful.

"This is the holy grail of search engines," he said. "Most searches people do are looking for sites they have been to before. This is really the next evolution in search technology."

Eurekster plans to make money through paid search results provided by Overture Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Yahoo. These results will appear under "Sponsored Listings" headings on the Eurekster search results pages and will be separate from user-generated results listings.

Ryan said the company is already talking to other search engine and social networking sites for partnership opportunities, but he wouldn't name names.

Eurekster was formed using technology from two start-ups, SLI Systems and RealContacts, founded by Ryan and his brother Shaun Ryan. SLI Systems provides search technology to customers such as NBC, Veritas Software, Excite Network, Comet Systems and Etronics. NBC owns approximately 15 percent of the company. In November, General Electric's NBC and SLI introduced a new search platform for the and Internet properties, powered by SLI's search technologies and featuring commercial search results from Overture.

RealContacts, a recruitment site, uses social networking to connect recruiters and employers with job candidates in 66 countries.

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