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Idealab prepping new search engine

Bill Gross' Internet incubator is quietly taking another crack at creating a search engine, called Find.com, which will build several search engines organized by topic.

Net entrepreneur Bill Gross' Idealab is quietly taking another crack at creating a Web search engine.

The Internet incubator--which helped launch local guide service CitySearch, online retailer eToys, and free online access provider NetZero--is testing a new search concept called Find.com. The site, which Idealab has not formally unveiled, is trying to build several search engines organized by topic and is soliciting input from Web users.

"Find.com is dedicated to creating many focused, topic-based search engines, rather than one broad-based search," the site reads.

Although Idealab has backed other Internet search ventures, including GoTo.com, its latest foray appears to build on a new trend that aims to provide more relevant results through a combination of human and technological filters.

A host of newcomers are taking on search engine leaders such as Inktomi and AltaVista by carving out specialty sites, while many of the larger players are refining their offerings. Despite the glut of search products, analysts said there may be room for more as demand for services continues to grow.

"I'm amazed--almost tired--at how many search products keep coming out," said Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineWatch.com, a newsletter dedicated to search services. "But there's still such a huge demand that if they build another search brand, they can attract different segments of the population."

Cracking into the market can be difficult, however. According to a note on the Find.com Web site, the new company has absorbed another Idealab search company, Metasearch.com, which apparently never took off. Metasearching is a method that queries several search engines at once and compiles the results in one place.

Find.com, by contrast, will rely heavily on human editors to develop directories of Web pages--another trend in Internet search.

Branding also appears to be a major part of the Find.com strategy. In January, Idealab paid $1.2 million in a cash and stock purchase of the domain name from Find/SVP, a New York-based business research service.

Though the company would not provide Humans still behind Web search results (year in review)specific details of its plans, the site provides some hints. Find.com gives two columns for search results. The left column features links "from the editor," which can connect people to other sites relevant to the query. When appropriate, the editorial column also includes links to other categories and services, such as e-commerce sites, CitySearch's local listings and weather reports.

The right column features search results by GoTo.com, which sells Web sites the right to be ranked, with top spots going to the highest bidder.

Find.com is still in preview mode, so its business plan has not been formally disclosed, according to Teresa Bridwell, an Idealab spokeswoman. She also declined to give a launch date for the site and added that the concept behind the site is liable to change.

"It is standard practice for us to do prototyping on our site and make refinements before we launch it," she said.

Bridwell did confirm, however, that Find.com is a company within Idealab, and that it is looking to staff its management ranks.

News.com's Jeff Pelline contributed to this report.