Lee Lorenzen, the man behind the Altura Facebook-focused venture fund, was at the F8 conference Wednesday pitching a non-Facebook project: Kallout. It's a software utility and Web service that lets you kick off a Web search from any word in almost any app. Lorenzen calls it, "a new way to search using only your mouse." All you have to do is select some text and wait half a second, and an icon appears on your screen that lets you pop up a Kallout search menu. Similar utilities are built into some browsers, but Kallout works across all apps.
The app lets you select from multiple search systems, including Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, and various other commerce sites, databases, and news sources. And it is somewhat context aware. If you highlight an address, its first search option will be a map; likewise, a movie title will likely display options from YouTube and Amazon.
Search results are displayed in an on-screen window, or you can click through to go to the originating Web source for the info.
Lorenzen thinks Kallout can be a powerful advertising service. As he says, Kallout gives "Google the ability to sell ads over Microsoft Office." Kallout does indeed work with Office, although since Office also has menus that pop up when you hover over a selection, it can ugly up your workspace a little bit.
The real challenge is getting Kallout adopted, and that's not to be discounted. Getting the utility requires a download and an installation, a pretty big barrier when you're hoping to run an ad-supported business.
I have seen other products like this, but I still like Kallout. It's completely unobtrusive yet there when you need it. If you do a lot of Web searches based on things you read while surfing, or need reference works while you're writing, I recommend it. It's a good tool.
See also: Hyperwords.