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Francois Bourdoncle, CEO, Exalead

Francois BourdoncleWe're swimming in search engine providers: vertical search for that business sector, specialized search for everything from flow valves to blog topics.

But Google still rules everyone's minds (and market share, according to Neilsen//NetRatings)when starting a search. What's a player with a unique approach to the technology to do?

Exalead's CEO, Francois Bourdoncle, recently chatted with internetnews.com about how he wants to steal more minds.

With the Enterprise 4.0 version freshly updated this month, and more users spreading good word of mouth about Exalead's so-called search-by-serendipity approach, the French-based company is enjoying the buzz factor. Bourdoncle takes it from there.

Q: Google is making its own play in enterprise. What makes your product more compelling for enterprise search than the big players?

I think there are two key aspects. First, our search platform and its unified search technology, both in terms of the base technology but also in terms of the user interface.

Our difference is the way we integrate search on the desktop. For instance, using something we call the search-by-serendipity experience. It's a consistent way to search across the entire enterprise, and this is unique to Exalead.

We do hold a patent on some aspects of the user interface. It's unique in its approach to merge all the search results together and provide a way, for instance, to narrow the search across all the sources that you're searching.

For example, if you do a search in the enterprise, or within a work group, the [Exalead] search engine comes up with a way, for example, to narrow your search to PDF documents. So, by simply clicking on the PDF, you can refine you query to search for PDF docs across the entire enterprise, including your desktop.

The other thing that's unique to Exalead is our market positioning. We try to bring together the simplicity of the consumer-oriented search systems, much like Google's approach, together with adaptivity and fine-tuning other higher-end offerings.

So we're trying to bring together the best of both worlds: the simplicity of deploying a consumer product, with the sophistication of refined searches, with scalability.

Q: Why are my search results so different on Exalead compared to Google, or even MSN?

Well, we are addressing that issue by indexing more pages. We [got up to] 4 billion documents indexed by the end of January. That's still small compared to Google's indexes, which have anywhere from 10 to 20 billion documents.

Our homepage had real-time documents that were showing how we were increasing the pages by 100 million every couple of days. That's to show you that this is a real-time index and that we're making it fresher and fresher.

That's important. You want it to be fresh and big enough. Then there's the question of ranking. Obviously, each [search engine provider] has their own ranking system. Google has a way of doing this. We have ours. At the end of the day, it's not ranking that matters. It's really how to narrow down your search and find what you're looking for. That's what we're working on.

Q: Is search becoming more vertically focused?

I think it's the opposite. This market is concentrating horizontally. There won't be much of a difference between consumer offerings and enterprise offerings [before long].

Web search is part of the overall information access experience, including in the enterprise, and that's why we integrate search into the enterprise product.

The important thing is not only about asking questions, etc., but what's important is the way for people to manage their search results. That includes previewing them. It includes narrowing search, sorting the results by date, for instance, by different types of documents, and search-by-serendipity.

You start with few terms, then you identify your date of interest, then you can sort of refocus your search as you go along, so that you actually formulate the search you had in mind when you formulated during your query.