Search Takes Center Stage at DEMO

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – While competitors like Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Yahoo (NASDAQ: MSFT) and various feisty startups continue to take whacks at Google’s dominant market share, others see more promise in riding the search giant’s coattails.

For example,
Xmarks showed off some nifty new features here at DEMO that leverages information in the 600 million bookmarks the company has collected from its three million users the past few years.

Previously named Foxmarks, Xmarks offers an add-on bookmark synchronization tool for Web browsers. Its founder is Mitch Kapor, the founder of Lotus and an early investor in several other tech ventures.

“Each one of those 600 million bookmarks was a vote for a Web site we’ve been able to categorize,” said Gaurav Oberoi, product manager at XMarks. “Now we can leverage all the information to provide a kind of recommendation engine to help you search more effectively,” he told

Xmarks complements the findings of search engines like Google (NASDAQ: GOOG). When the search results are displayed, Xmarks places an icon next to the three results that are most popular in its bookmark database, which is constantly growing. Click on one of those results and you can also see a list of other sites that users of the bookmarking service also visited.

Whereas Google organizes search results by a page ranking system, Oberoi said XMarks provides a kind of “people rank” to further refine those results.

“This release is Act Two for the company,” Kapor told “With 600 million bookmarks we have a kind of ‘wisdom of crowds’ users can tap whenever they search. It’s part of a broader movement to a smarter Web.”

A smarter search alternative?

Ensembli is more of an alternative to Google and other traditional search engines. The company’s CEO, Mike Wheatley, said Ensembli is an alternative to news aggregators, RSS feeds and other services that haven’t had a big mainstream impact because they’re too hard to use.

You have to be a registered user to use Ensembli. Then enter an area of interest into Ensembli’s search box. A test of the service today using the term “netbooks” generated 11 news and feature stories all related to netbooks. A few of the stories were from today and the rest from the past week.

But another search for “California budget” resulted in a list of stories from ten days ago or more, most related to a widely-reported key resolution in the legislative standoff. The same search on Google News generated a list of stories from today on more recent developments and analysis.

While Google News gets the edge in this random test, Ensembli says it offers greater customization that can, in theory, make it more effective. For example, in addition to tracking what stories you choose, Ensembli users can discard stories that aren’t of interest which helps the system “learn” which ones you like.

“Ensembli finds news stories that relate to your interests,” said Wheatley. “As your tastes change, Ensembli changes with you.”

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