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Fatlens Launches Ticket Search

FatLens officially launched what it claims is the first true Web search site for event tickets.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company premiered its vertical search technology in the complex and fast-changing event ticket sector.

The problem for fans seeking seats, according to FatLens president Siva Kumar, is that there are hundreds of sites where that elusive ticket might be available. That includes not only ticket resale specialists like RazorGator, but also auction sites such as eBay , community sites craigslist and newspapers' online classified listings.

FatLens ticket search results combine available seats from the various outlets; users can narrow their searches by section or by price, then buy tickets by clicking on a button next to the desired tickets.

According to Jupiter Research's Retail Forecast Summary, the online channel will account for 18.5 percent of all event ticket sales this year. By 2009, online sales will take a 22.7 percent share. (Jupiter Research and internetnews.com are owned by JupiterMedia.)

Despite that nice chunk of ecommerce, FatLens has its sights set on a bigger marketplace: product search.

"We launched the technology using ticket search because that's a difficult category to do," Kumar said. In the fall, FatLens will add search within multiple categories of products.

Kumar said FatLens can give shoppers better results because it combines true Web search with technology to identify product attributes, while shopping comparison sites aggregate results from specific merchants but don't show everything available.

"Instead of indexing words and pages, we index products for sale," he said. "We have an intelligent crawler that understands what products are there on a page." The crawler also can do queries of a database associated with a site. Most product information is stored as structured data within a database.

FatLens may face plenty of competition as well as opportunity, according to Jupiter Research analyst Gary Stein. "There's a great opportunity to build vertical search engines right now because the big Web indexes are getting so huge that it's hard to find the specific thing you want."

Stein said the availability of application programming interfaces into Google , Yahoo , eBay and Amazon.com make it easy to apply vertical search algorithms to those companies' indexes without having to build one from scratch.

FatLens is building a proprietary index, rather than doing a meta search of other search engines' indexes. Kumar said because the universe of shopping sites is rather limited, building the index is doable. "It's not like I have to deal with every blog on the planet," he said.

The company has a somewhat precarious business model, relying on affiliate fees for sending traffic to merchants, as well as showing pay-per-click advertising from a third-party provider such as Yahoo or Google against search results. (FatLens hasn't yet entered into such an advertising agreement.)

While affiliate marketing itself is a very solid business model, Stein said, the big problem with vertical search services is the cost of getting traffic. When starting out, vertical search players will almost certainly need to buy keyword advertising on the major search engines.

He explained that they can fall into a circular trap in which they pay full price for their ads appearing on Google or Yahoo, while they only get a percentage of the revenue from the ads Google or Yahoo places on their own sites.

"You have to assume that searchers go to Google the first time and next time, hopefully, they'll come directly to you. Getting people to bookmark your site is the real challenge," Stein said.

FatLens is counting on the viral, repeat nature of ticket sales to build up its user base and keep it out of that vicious circle. "People don't go to a game alone," he pointed out, "and they go to three or four a season. Avid fans are the leaders that others turn to when they want to find tickets. We picked a sector where changing user behavior has some [weight]."