Google vs discovery engines, Kosmix

Bambi Francisco Roizen · March 9, 2009 · Short URL:

Chris Shipley of Guidewire helps us review a magazine approach to searching topics

Chris Shipley, co-founder of startup research and consulting firm, Guidewire, has spent more than a decade advising and mentoring startups. She's responsible for bringing about 1,500 startups to the DEMO (a leading conference for emerging tech startups) stage. On Vator Box, our version of Siskel & Ebert meets American Idol for startups, we try to find people or experts in certain fields who can help analyze one startup per show. In this segment, we brought Shipley in to be our guest host. The company in the spotlight was Kosmix.

As the Web becomes an increasingly cluttered place to find information, new sources are emerging to help us browse information rather than to search for it. Wikipedia is a great example of one such pioneering source, whereby one topic query results in a well-organized and categorized executive summary.

In many ways, Kosmix - a new Web guide - is trying to do the same thing, but through the aggregation of information nuggets from around the Web, rather than input from the crowd in a wiki-like approach. 

Kosmix isn't about finding the needle in the haystack (which Google does best), but displaying the contours of the haystack.

I call Kosmix - Wikipedia meets Google search meets In other words, it's a well-crafted magazine on topics. 

Here are some observations about and advice to Kosmix made by Shipley, Ezra Roizen (Vator Box regular and digital media investment banker) and me: 

- Kosmix co-founder Venky Harinarayan does a great job encapsulating what Kosmix's business is about and its value proposition. Often those giving the introductory pitches talk about the technology behind a product rather than its usefullness to the end user. Harinarayan puts a lot of emphasis on why Kosmix is good for consumers.

- Kosmix has a nice UI (user interface), providing text, images and video, and other relevant resources from around the Web, for a given topic. Its magazine-styled approach to search is a useful iteration and enhancement to finding information that combines the delivery of relevant information with the serendipitous nature of discovering other related content. 

- Kosmix is less about searching for a specific long-tail topic, and more about discovering new things about a topic. Google is useful when trying to find a specific listing, or a specific article. For instance, Google is great for finding a listing of cab drivers in New York City, or an article written in a certain year, by a specific journalist on a specific topic. Google can help zero in on something you want to find. Kosmix is useful in giving a well-presented executive summary on a particular topic. For instance, if you searched for "How to cook a turkey," Kosmix will give you suggestions about "stuffing" and "brining." It will also give you suggestions to books on cooking turkeys.

- While we wouldn't refer to Kosmix as a search engine, it is trying to help organize information and make it findable. To this end, it is helping the "search" process. New search engines - such as Cuil and Searchme - haven't exactly taken off as consumers' habits around searching and finding information are tough to change. This will be a challenge for Kosmix - getting consumers to accept another form of searching. That said, Kosmix is not about finding the most relevant single piece of information, it's about organizing the Web so you can discover relevant pieces of information. 

- Kosmix's business model is "sponsored widgets," according to Harinarayan. A truly successful ad-supported model will need hundreds of millions of pageviews. Like most ad-supported companies, Kosmix will need to figure out how to drive significant volumes of pageviews.

- Google's business model worked because the company offers a very simple service to millions of small businesses. In other words, the requirements to be listed as a sponsor on Google aren't difficult to understand or deliver. Requiring small businesses to create sponsored widgets for Kosmix might, at least for now, be a bit challenging. 

- Kosmix launches Meehive this week. Meehive is a new personalized newspaper. (Watch for our in-depth coverage later this week). Meehive might be a bigger success than Kosmix as it is a compelling destination site for news. Once again, Kosmix nails it on the UI. There are challenges to this model too, however. For instance, delivering personalization requires users to provide their preferences, which is often as difficult as pulling teeth.

(Note: Remember, we're not experts here. We'd love feedback on our observations. We're just trying to start a dialogue. What do you think of Kosmix's prospects?)

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Bambi Francisco Roizen

Founder and CEO of Vator, a media and research firm for entrepreneurs and investors; Managing Director of Vator Health Fund; Co-Founder of Invent Health; Author and award-winning journalist.

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@WalmartLabs (Kosmix)


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Kosmix was acquired by Walmart in May of 2011 to create @WalmartLabs.

Through the innovative fusion of retail, social and mobile, @WalmartLabs is redefining Commerce for the largest retailer worldwide. We are a group comprised of the brightest technologists and businesspeople in the industry, excited about the limitless opportunities that this next generation of Commerce will bring to billions of people around the globe, all in an effort to help them save money and live better.

Kosmix was funded by Time Warner Investments, Accel Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Dag Ventures, private investor Ed Zander and Jeff Bezos' personal investment company, Bezos Expeditions.


WalmartLabs is hiring.




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Searchme lets you see what you’re searching for. As you start typing, categories appear that relate to your query. Choose a category, and you’ll see pictures of web pages that answer your search. You can review these pages quickly to find just the information you’re looking for, before you click through.

We’re just getting started on our first step towards creating an entirely new way to search the Web. The quality of our results will vary as we make Searchme better and better. If you have comments or suggestions we’d love to hear from you. We love feedback.

We’re also looking for more great people to join our team, as well as ways to partner with companies to deliver more value to our users. And, of course, we’re always happy to chat with the press.

Thanks for using Searchme!


Ezra Roizen

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Advisor-to and commenter-on emerging ventures

chris Shipley

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