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Accoona Mulling License For AI Search

Call it the new, vertically integrated, horizontal search engine with artificial intelligence to license -- and no worries about its growth plans against bigger search players.

Since its official launch Monday in New York with the help of former President Bill Clinton, business search engine Accoona said it is mulling a plan to license its AI software product that is at the heart of its search offering.

"The key differentiator for us is the artificial intelligence," said Stuart Kauder, CEO of the Jersey City, N.J.-based company. What good is it when you have five million pages [of search results] when looking for the result you want?"

In order to help narrow relevant search results, he said the company put a mechanism in place to sort through vast amounts of data with its "SuperTarget" AI feature. Instead of searching on keywords, Accoona tries to apply meaning to the search term and provides results based on the words the user types in the search box.

The search site merges Web data, spidering of pages and the largest business database, which Kauder said includes more than 30 million companies. "We combine the business database information and Web information." As for how big the index is, he would only say it is still being built up.

Although early reviews of the site have been tepid, Kauder said the company is right where it planned to be at its launch: with a foot planted in China's white-hot Internet industry. China Daily, the newspaper whose Web site is the largest English language online publication in China, has an ownership stake in Accoona.

The site boasts about three million unique visitors a day and a younger demographic among its base, key metrics that advertisers covet. Indeed, by some measures, about 50 million Chinese citizens are online, a fraction of the country's 1 billion population.

"We're building a global brand," Kauder added, with a European-focused rollout planned by June of next year.

The company's business model is similar to all the major search engines: a mixture of ad dollars from paid search and strategic alliances on listings. For example, Accoona has a strategic relationship with Yahoo as well as its Overture division, which pipes in paid listings.

The site is among a group of search engines that have begun differentiating themselves among the big search players by touting their vertical focus -- or unique search results.

Business.com is a prime example in the vertical search category. The site features directories (also called taxonomies) of business search terms that provide groups of results for the user. Jake Winebaum, the CEO of Business.com, said the company expects to have 65,000 categories logged for its users by year's end and counts about 12 million unique visitors a month. (Business.com and the parent company of this site have a business relationship.)

But Accoona's potential move into licensing its AI could also be a sign that the site has some work ahead of it. It faces building a loyal group of users when Google enjoys a loyal following with Microsoft's MSN planning a big launch and other players such as Yahoo beefing up their offerings.

Kauder countered that the site is already in a solid position for advertisers in the China market with its ChinaDaily.com relationship and that its AI software could be just the ticket for companies looking to improve search internally.

"People could license our software to sort through their own databases, such as a huge company with a massive intranet," he said. "There are lots of possibilities we're currently exploring."

As for the company's name, he said there's no real hidden message. It's taken from the Swahili "no worries," which was immortalized in Disney's animated classic: "The Lion King."