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Direct Hit aims to refine searches

The technology firm debuts on HotBot with its aim to refine searches on the major engines through a kind of collaborative filtering.

For all their community features, aggregated content, and other bells and whistles, a portal is only as good as the search engine that is its backbone.

At least, so hopes Gary Culliss, 28, chairman and cofounder of Direct Hit, a technology firm that is looking to refine searches on the major engines through a kind of collaborative filtering. Direct Hit made its debut on HotBot yesterday.

"We view the world as having two types of searches, and we're adding a third," Culliss said. One type is the "author-controlled" keyword search, through engines such as that of AltaVista, which Culliss said results in "lots of documents but poor relevancy." The other type is the directory model, on sites such as Yahoo, in which the site has a staff of people who categorize the sites. That type results in "fewer documents but better relevancy," he said.

Direct Hit, which refines searches to the top ten chosen by other surfers, "strikes a balance between the two," he said.

Direct Hit's service is based on proprietary technology Culliss invented after working as a patent agent and using traditional search technology. During that time, he found it helpful to ask other researchers where they had found useful information in the patent database--so when the Web took off in 1995, he figured out that it would provide enough people to automate that process.

Culliss said the technology uses data feeds from searchers' queries and tracks the sites users choose from the results they get. He noted that users don't have to enter exactly the same query to get comparable results, and that the technology keeps track of how much time users spend on a given site.

If someone goes to a site and immediately leaves, the technology in effect assumes it was a dead link or the results were misleading, Culliss said. From all the data it gathers, Direct Hit gives users the top ten results from other surfers' like queries.

Culliss also noted that the technology does not cause compromises to users' privacy.

"We never know who visited a particular site. We only know that someone went there," he said.

Direct Hit's business model does not rely on one portal. Instead, the firm is looking to cash in on the cutthroat competition among search sites by offering a service they all can use. Other firms--notably Inktomi--also have used that approach.

Culliss said the company is in talks with other search firms, but declined to name them.