- 9 Dec 08, 08:57 GMT
What's the definition of optimism in these troubled times for the hi-tech economy? How about starting a business which plans to take on Google from a base in Mountain View, the search giant's home town? Or maybe ploughing $20m into that business as an investor when everyone else is hiding under the bed covers?
But that's the story of Kosmix, a new search business that has announced today that it has won $20 million in funding from investors who include Time Warner.
The co-founder of this apparently mad venture dropped into London a week or so back, and on meeting him I was almost convinced that he might just have a chance of success.
For one thing, Anand Rajaraman's idea does look quite compelling. He is very keen to stress that he isn't taking on the behemoth of search head-on. "Google is the best place to go if you're looking for a needle in a haystack - if you're looking for one single website or piece of information. But Kosmix is about exploring a whole topic." In the bar of the London hotel where he was staying he showed me an example. A search for Stonehenge grouped on one page pictures of the site, documents and discussions about its history, but also details of accommodation in Bath, should you want to stay there during your visit.
Later, I searched for "internet censorship" and found a useful collection of articles, videos and news relating to this topic. In this case, the results were not so different from what a Google search threw up, but they were organised in a more accessible manner.
The idea sounds a bit like the various "semantic search" companies that have popped up recently - from True Knowledge to Semantifind - but Anand Rajaraman said his firm had not gone down this path. "We deliver on the promise of semantic search without doing it that way." Instead, he explained, the Kosmix work involves "categorisation", crawling the web, extracting huge amounts of data, then using statistical analysis to figure out clever ways of extracting meaning from it. Such as working out that someone interested in Stonehenge might combine their visit with a trip to Bath.
The other impressive thing about Mr Rajamaran and his co-founder Venky Harinarayan is that they have a track record of turning their computer science expertise in to large piles of cash. They are friends who dropped out of Stanford in 1996, as part of the team behind Junglee - one of the web's firs comparison shopping software. That was sold to Amazon in 1998 for stock worth $280 million. Since then the two Indian-born entrepreneurs have used their share of that windfall to back other Silicon Valley start-ups, before setting to work to create Kosmix.
Still, even with a solid team and what appears to be impressive technology the odds must be against Kosmix making it big. Plenty of others have tried and failed to convince the world there is a better way to search. But there is no denting Anand Rajamaran's optimism: "It's a very good time to build a business," he told me. "There's not so much noise out there, and it's a great time to hire people." And when I suggested that Kosmix was entering a crowded market, he had a swift response: "It's getting less crowded every day."
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