Google Digs Down Under

Google has bought the rights to a search engine algorithm that its
creators predict will revolutionize the way people search for information on
the Internet.

The search giant snapped up the rights to “Orion” from Australia’s
University of New South Wales for an undisclosed sum. Google has also hired
Ori Allon, a 26-year-old PhD student from the university who developed the
algorithm.

“Google has purchased the assets of Orion and Ori Allon is now an
employee,” said Barry Schnitt, a Google spokesperson. “We’re thrilled to
have him here.”

Schnitt refused to comment on what projects Allon is currently working on
or Google’s plans for Orion.

Analysts say that, ground-breaking technology or not, it’s likely that
users will experience Orion more as a refinement of Google rather than a
revolution.

“I’m sure that there’s some value in Orion because apparently MSN and
Yahoo were interested in it as well,” said Greg Sterling, lead analyst at
Oakland, California based Sterling Market Intelligence.

“Google is exploring a number of upgrades to its algorithm. Probably they
acquired this to incorporate into what they’re doing and to take it off the
market in terms of competitors.”

If it works as described, Orion would allow researchers to get a complete
overview of their topic quickly without ever having to leave a search engine
site.

Google and other search engines typically return a list of Web pages that
contain the keywords used in a search string.

According to a press
release
issued by the University of New South Wales last September, the
Orion algorithm returns a list of pages that contain content about topics
closely related to the keywords.

The algorithm also extracts and displays a relevant excerpt of the cited
pages on the search engine’s site.

The release describes the search engine as “a new way of exploring the
Web that could revolutionize existing search engines.”

Israeli-born Allon, who completed a Bachelor and Masters degree at Monash
University in Melbourne before moving to the University of NSW for his Ph.D
work, isn’t talking to the media about Orion or his work with Google, citing
contractual obligations.

However, he has said in the university press release that the concept of
search engine’s providing chunks of information rather than simply links to
information came from his supervisor, Eric Martin, of the University of
NSW’s computer science department.

Allon came to Sydney in March 2005 to work on a search engine project.
Six months later the team announced it had developed Orion.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the university retains the
intellectual property rights to Orion, “and that could mean a steady flow of
royalty payments if the process is eventually integrated into Google’s
search engine.”

Andy Beal, CEO of Fortune Interactive, a search marketing consulting firm
based in Raleigh, NC said that the debut of Orion could happen within six
months to a year.

“The thing is, we might not necessarily see a readily identifiable use of
this technology,” Beal said. “Google has a habit of buying small companies
and integrating their technology, without actually rolling out a standalone
product as a result of the acquisition.”

Beal pointed out that the acquisition of Keyhole led to Google Earth, a
standalone product, but said that was a rare use of a Google acquisition.

Kaltix Corp. and Applied Semantics, two companies acquired by Google,
offered personalized and context sensitive search technologies. Their
technology was rolled into existing Google products, he said.

Beale expects that’s what will happen with Orion, and the technology will
be used to improve Google’s existing interface.

“The press release says Google is focusing on core search projects,” he
said. “Everything they’ve done recently has been focused on ancillary
products. It’s nice to see an announcement where Google is interested in
improving its core search technology.”

But, he added, “while they have acquired the technology behind Orion,
what they’ve really done is hired a smart guy.”

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