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Summary:

Almost five years ago, I met with two fresh-faced boys called Larry and Sergey. They had just launched this little search engine thing called Google, and had stopped by at the offices of Forbes.com. Since then, they have of course become stars, and their search engine […]

Almost five years ago, I met with two fresh-faced boys called Larry and Sergey. They had just launched this little search engine thing called Google, and had stopped by at the offices of Forbes.com. Since then, they have of course become stars, and their search engine has replaced “god” in the popular lexicon. Even in the early days, I had been blown away by the sheer simplicity of their search engine, which hid massive complexity behind the veneer of a clean almost empty home page. I had a tingling sensation, when I saw Google and thought to myself – ‘well this shit is going to be huge.’ I said so in my article, How Google Is That!

I got the same tingling sensation today, when I met with a little known search engine, no scratch that, search agent company called BlinkX. BlinkX co-founder Kathy Rittweger stopped by at our offices and demoed her little product. It is a actually a very simple piece of software which you download and install on your desktop. There is a web browser version as well!

While Google is all about keyword search, BlinkX is all about contextual search. Let me explain. Say you are reading through a big Microsoft Word document, on I don’t know European Union policies on data transfer, the BlinkX bar at the top of the page, will retrieve relevant news item links with brief summaries (only visible when a mouse moves over the link) and other important links. At the bottom of the results a tiny “ad” which is in a color different from the results, so that you always know it is a paid advertisement. The software basically reads the entire document and builds a contextual link database on the fly.

It can do the same for a web page you are reading. For instance, if you were reading my piece on Cisco buying Procket, you would get links to all relevant news articles on the web, and links to Cisco and Procket homepages. However, the fun begins when you open the client software (which sits in the system tray.) It has a simple entry window. Lets say you put Napa and Sonoma County. It searches and brings back the web for news, Amazon for books, websites of relevance, e-commerce links and but more importantly any documents, emails etc related to that subject on your desktop.

They are also planning to add a special results section for weblogs – where relevant information from millions of weblogs will be sifted and displayed. The software’s broadband version also has something called a visualizer tool, which basically builds and displays 3D links and puts a visual context to the information. Very very cool! “We want the search engine technology to be completely invisible,” Kathy says. (She used to work at Firefly!) I used it for a few minutes, and already it makes sense to me. I am sure by end of the day tomorrow I will be completely addicted.

Combining desktop and Internet search in an easy to use manner is being described as the next big thing. Well I saw the future, today and it is BlinkX. They are already ahead of what Microsoft or Ask Jeeves or Google or anyone else has right now. Now lets talk about the company. It has ten employees, has $2 million in angel funding, and has a business plan, which is based on ads-and-search. How very 1999! I think that is the only thing I found wrong with the whole presentation – lack of business model!

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  1. I hear you Steve and Otis and even despite my little experience in professional researching, your points seem very valid for a professional researcher.

    I however think that _Blinkx_ are trying to reach the mass market. Users like me and my mom that have realised the power of Google and are utilising it well. We are now ready for the next step in information delivery and if Blinkx can package that nicely I think they have a success on their hands.

    With time, the tool may become more advanced and maybe even useful to hard core information miners. But as pointed out, limited resource such as a small start up normally has, limits you from doing everything for everybody in version 0.9.

    Now I just need to find the time to actually try out Blinkx and see if it is any useful.

  2. Hey, Om…I’m doing great. Working at OnPR, a public relations firm with three tech specialty areas: wireless, enterprise software and consumer tech… I’ve also just had a baby girl! Let’s catch up soon…

  3. Dammit Om, I’m supposed to be working, not playing with this very cool new toy!! Sure there are issues, but this is VERY nice. I can see using this constantly writing research reports and doing research online. It’s almost enough to get me to switch back to IE as my main browser…

  4. rick – my sentiments exactly. this is pretty addictive and cannot wait for the mac version to show up. by the way it works equally well with all other browsers – at least on firefox it does.

  5. Om – it works on Firefox?? Oooh, even cooler. I don’t get the little Blinkx controls that I see in IE, but I’ll talk to them about that. Thanks for the tip!

    MUST… QUIT… PLAYING…..

  6. Om, curious to know why you think they have no model … after all, Google et. al. are making a killing on search.

  7. Jonathan Greene Thursday, June 17, 2004

    need … mac … support…..

    Looks very cool.

  8. i think with google you can deliver tons of those damn text ads on the side of search results. the way their client works there is only one place to sell an ad. i am not particularly fond of the ad-model. unless you have scale, which google has, it is difficult to make a business. trust me i have tried it many times, and it does not work. so that is why. what i would like to see – ‘blinkXbox’ for contextual document search inside large corporations as a sideline. basically they need to build an API where you could interface, corporate database, web, news sources such as lexis nexis and your hard drive into one sweet simple interface application.

  9. they told me that the MAC version is currently under development but because they are a smallish company, resources are always an issue. i understand and am willing to wait for them. as i said, they need an API which would lets say let guys who make Watson or Sherlock (apple??) plug into this. sweet and easy baby

  10. Looks a little (lot?) like Dashboard … or even further back, The Rememberance Agent. I’m glad to see this stuff is finally happening in a mainstream sort of way. The Rememberance Agent was cool, but I had to run emacs (ick!) to use it!

  11. mike- that is a blast from the past. anyway glad to see you are adding relevance and context to this discussion. i am sure we all agree that when it comes to technology, what goes around comes around. this is supremely better than dashboard

  12. Another little app that took the integrated desktop/search approach was/is GuruNet. Rather than build links dynamically, all you needed to do was hover over a word or phrase and it would build a brief summary on the word or phrase from standard reference works. It would also provide links to search results for the word or phrase.

    I was a product manager at Ask Jeeves from 1999-2002 and worked on several prototypes for “Personal Jeeves”, which aimed to do all that Blinkx does and more. One of the approaches we took on the business side (Jeeves Solutions) was to create a dynamic natural language interface to as many business systems as possible – ERP, HR, SFA, product catalogs, e-mail,etc that would allow you to pass queries directly to the appropriate business system query interface to retrieve “answers”. Jeeves Solutions acquired the foundation from another cool company – Octopus, which began as a consumer-oriented tool before taking the corporate tack. Ultimately, Jeeves Solutions was sold to Kanisa before the technology could be further developed. I agree wholeheartedly that the ad-driven business model is a poor idea. Unless they can sell it corporations as a knowledge management utility, it will go the way of apps like GuruNet and the Brain – another KM tool that alloweds you to create dynamic, 3D link maps to information on your desktop, on the web, etc.

  13. Marivi Lerdo de Tejada Thursday, June 17, 2004

    I saw Autonomy demo the same thing back in ’98. I believe they called it Kenjin.

  14. Yup, we saw the same demo, but the damn thing did not work. this works just fine and is brilliant. use it, two hours later, you would be convert as well. how are you doing otherwise marivi

  15. I saw a few press releases that said that Blinkx uses a “piece” of Autonomy’s technology. Therefore a “piece” is akin to the entire DRE and what was once Kenjin from Autonomy is now Blinkx from Autonomy. Autonomy also has a corporate version called Active Windows Extensions. Looks like Autonomy is trying to change their web strategy with this corporate spinoff and looking for VCs to fund it all the way.

  16. There is now a Mozilla beta which I downloaded …the search is fine and it does my Eudora mail but the interetsing bit is the linking you can just wander from page to page all day…this is different and perhaps the start of something new.

    I put comview on it and didn’t see anything spyware like so their website looks true and there appears to be no evidence of some of the spyware comments in the ether.
    So far I have read on Blogs this is Amazon technology, Autonomy technology, Brewster Khale stuff and Bonzi bunny ..so who knows ..but it seems to work pretty well even if its steam power from dunkin doughnuts

  17. Definitely need a Mac version!

  18. I have to respectfully disagree with the rave reviews. Interesting idea, but I find the implementation not very helpful. I am a full-time, professional researcher for a major U.S newspaper and I am on the Internet al least fours every day of my life. What I would really need is something that alerts me when:

    1) something I am searching is already on my hard drive. For example, often I am searching for something and forget that I already have materials on this on my disk. It would be nice to be alerted when this happens. For example, I am searching Google for Joe Blow and a message pops up and says “Joe Blow is referenced in these 5 documents on your hard drive”

    2) When something I am interested in is on a web page or document and I don’t notice. To make this useful, I would have to choose ahead of time what to alert me on. For example, I don’t need to know every time Texas is mentioned in a document that it is also on my hard rive. For example, I have indicated that I want alerts on “Joe Blow” I go to a webpage that mentions Joe Blow and a message pops up and says “Joe Blow” is mentioned in this document.

    What this program seems to do is:

    1) quickly searches my files when I highlight a phrase. I like that and it is faster than opening up a search program and entering the info but not enough to make me buy this program. Also, the results returned are erratic in that the words search don’t always appear in the results.

    2) searches the web/news automatically based on what is in a document. This is pretty useless as all it really tells you is that there is something on the Internet that is also in the document which is pretty obvious. It bills itself as a “context search” but I don’t see any context, just key word searching. I think Latent Semantic Indexing has the promise of context but I just don’t see it here.

    3) searches your disk, the news, and the Internet together which is also pretty useless as the search of the news/Internet is way, way too rudimentary and doesn’t even appear to handle phrase searching

    So, what I am really getting from this program is a duplication of my existing search program (Enfish) and a bunch of news and web pages that are usually irrelevant to me.

    What is frustrating is that nobody seems to ask people like myself what they really need, so what we get is something like this which is what we don’t need. I can think of dozens of tools that would be useful to a professional researcher like myself but I rarely see anything useful come on the market.

  19. The idea, team and execution appear to be smart, but the name and logo are appaling. Ive already mistyped the word several times this morning! and the logo looks like the by-product of an office party fumble between Ebay and Mr Potato Head!

  20. That is a veery useful comment from Steve M., and I agree with it. What Blinkx and similar products call “searching in context” is not the LSI-style “context”, though. I think they simply use “context” as a fancy way of saying “looking over your shoulder”. But, like Steve M. pointed out, looking over the shoulder is not enough.

    What puzzles me about products like Blinkx, Enfish, and a few other that appeared and disappeared is that they seem to add to the information overload. Instead of focusing on the current informatoin source (e.g. a paper published on the Web), these tools pull up information from additional sources. Of course, for them to work, they need to draw your attention, which means that you lose focus of the current information source. That is why I never bought into products like this.

    Instead, I got in a habit of first searching my bookmarks via Simpy (you can see them if you click on my name). If I don’t find anything there, I simply click-though to Google, AllTheWeb, Teoma, or any of the other big search engines, as Simpy prepares links to those sites, with queries embedded in links, so all it takes to re-run a search is a single mouse click. Of course, I am biased, as a whois query will tell you. This is similar to what Steve M. was describing when he said he wants to know if he _already_ has a relevant document on his hard drive.

  21. I wouldn’t put Enfish in this category. They did have a product called OneSpace at one time which did add some useless web pages to a hard drive search, but their current programs like Enfish Find are simple disk search utilities that work very well within the limitations of their design (I use Find as my disk search utility).

    The crux of the problem seems to be that we are reaching the limitations of text searching. I can already get most of what is available on the Internet if I use the right search string and Google, along with everybody else these days I guess, does a nice job of sorting the results.

    What I want now is something that can get me stuff that I am interested in but either forgot that I have or better, is something that I might be interested in but can’t find with text searching. This would be real context searching, something that LSI promises to provide.

    I don’t see the big problem in the “you already have this on your hard drive” issue as I explained in my post. This is trivial although nobody has done it. The real trick is the context searching. Somebody mentioned Autonomy which had something called Sleuth I think but it never produced anything but junk for me and they went on to provide big bucks software for the government. Hope it is working better finding terrorists than it did finding stuff for me.

    I have also fooled around with just about everything else. I could write a book about my experiences. For example there are a whole slew of programs that cluster search results either text-based like Vivisimo or visually like Groxis. None of these have ever helped me find a single piece of information that was useful.

    Problem is that the next jump is a big one in that the computer needs to understands, in some meaningful way, the “meaning” of what I am looking for. LSI promises this and I just talked to an ex-CIA guy who works for a big, big company that is developing it and he says it is miraculous. I will believe when I see it.

    So, what am I looking for?– just a program that that can reliably find me stuff beyond what I can find with word searches and that is always on the lookout for me. So far, I have seen nothing that does anything but what Otis mentions and that is add to my overload not reduce it.

  22. come on guys, if you want to pull the wool over our eyes at least try and be subtle about it.
    Rave reviews my ass, everytime someone with no interest in the product tries to point out how useless it is you lot bounce on his head.
    This shit is spyware pure and simple.

    “I however think that _Blinkx_ are trying to reach the mass market. Users like me and my mom that have realised the power of Google and are utilising it well. We are now ready for the next step in information delivery and if Blinkx can package that nicely I think they have a success on their hands.”

    now _that_ sounds like the wording of a normal passerby.

    ya right.

  23. These are the same people that made Bonzi Buddy. This is the very antithesis of Google. Now if we could only get a search index powered by the Gator Offer Companion we’d be all set!

    http://forums.spywareinfo.com/index.php?s=14fa35afac2c135f03f05fafedae423d&showtopic=8508&st=0&#entry33348

  24. i think it is Steve`s requirements are trivial and i hope someone from blinkx or for that matter, google has noticed them.
    the visualization feature is a definitly kool. although im yet to think of real constructive uses. its definitely a better view to ssee ur search results

  25. One thing no one else seems to have had a problem with – when I loaded blinkx and played with it a little, I found that it interfaced with Firefox (although it is said that that is a future developement) but when I tried to use IE, IE crashed. When I removed blinkx, IE functioned normally.

    Also, something I pointed out to blinkx – ‘information’ appears to be a stop word in its searches, so when you search for ‘information behavior’ all you get are links to ‘behavior’, or ‘information science’, all you get is ‘science’ – not very bright for a so-called AI system.

    And, am I wrong, but is Autonomy the engine underneath this? One of the file names seems to suggest it is.

  26. Foo…
    I know Kathy their founder from netcentives days. This has got nothing to do with Bonzi buddy..your post is untrue and you shouldn’t accuse people of being that dodgy without some evidence. What is your basis for such a statement?
    As for the product =>nice ,as for the name =>Blinkx…they should rename it

  27. Ralph Averbuch Thursday, June 17, 2004

    Well I finally downloaded it (took quite a while despite a 1MB connection). Overall impressions – I like the concept but, having read the comments here I realise that it’s simply a re-hash of previous ideas. There is nothing truly innovative here; rather it’s an amalgam of previously attempted efforts from others, reinvented and represented.

    That said, it doesn’t take away from the fact that, at least in principle, it’s a potentially very useful utility. But here’s the problem. In my case I’m running on a pretty fast PC yet after dowloading and running the program my PC (for two days) it really began to stutter and quite noticably slow. When I removed Blinkx the problem rectifies itself.

    So lots of room for improvement and no doubt I’ll give it another go but they need to do a bit more work on reducing the processor & resources demands of the app.

  28. Just upgraded to v.3.110 which seems to have fixed a couple of things I’d noticed – would suggest doing the same. Much better…

    Ive found the linking addictive; always used email indexing software, now dont need that – my email is linked to my word docs to my ppt to the web. With this level of utility I’m giving them a big chance and simply regularly upgrading. It seems to continually improve – stick with it.

  29. Using the Mozilla beta, really like the idea of getting stuff without having to do anything, if its passive search, linking whatever – i keep checking to see whats being offered to me, just in case…..

  30. has anyone seen the 3d query interface in 3.119? surprised i hadnt read about this feature before

  31. visual interface is new. just got 3119

    freaking cool!

  32. Gordon J Sheppard Thursday, June 17, 2004

    Reading a lot of the comments here about Blinx, especially from the professional researchers, one would think that Blinx has no future at all. But I see it as a very useful tool for the average user, and the ‘novice’ in this amazing technology. The professional can well afford to buy the best research engine. But the average user relies on Google and the free services that are available today. The professionals writing here are merely arrogant pompous snobbish freaks that criticise everything and everything that is not specifically designed for their ‘esteemed’ use. I am not using BLINX yet because I have some reservations. I am concerned that in some way it may upset present software and services already installed. Such as Google. Using BLINX can I still elect to use Google? But eventually I shall be using BLINX. I am confident of that. Because it sounds like a bloody good idea!!! For the novice and the amateur in this technology one of the worst things about it is that it is mostly designed for the ‘expert’. BLINX sounds to me, LIKE IT HAS BEEN SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED FOR ME.

    gjs

  33. think that the colors point to web or current news content – cant see that HD content is included, would be kinda nice. as a info pro, can see me using this to print out to have as a research resource. would like to see some encyclopedia content or really deep content to – even better 4 me if they added library content – it’s all there and free.

  34. been playing with the 3d visual query interface (accessible on v3.119 by clicking on the viz button) and discovered a few things id like to share: if you roll over one of the coloured spheres u get a summary of the web content and u can also get suggestions from that content by clicking a a suggest button underneath – u then get another lot of angles etc. etc.

    its like the mindmap idea that i heard about from MIT years ago, but never heard about it again

    can anyone tell me what the colours on the spheres mean though – cant figure it out.

  35. Gordon, I’m an info pro working in academia and have been using blinkx for 3 weeks now and have found it invaluable, especially the linking. I use it alongside Google and find the 2 very complimentary.

    A few tips: they continually improve it, so keep upgrading. They just added a visualization facility which is great for power users like us, you can get to it by clicking on a button to the right of the query box in the client version. Also you can highlight whole paragraphs of text to trigger suggestions – this is incredibly valuable.

    At last, something for powers users and info pros that is free, useful and that works. I’m supporting these guys because they are supporting the people that really drive the information economy – US!!!!!!!

  36. This is good, but one thing I want with any search engine is an edited selection of links. One needs ways to classify and cut out the junk.

  37. In this discussion I’ve seen some useful references to Groxis and other search tools, but no-one seems to have mentioned DevonAgent. From my experience, this goes way beyond Groxis and all the other tools I’ve tried. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Devon Technologies people (who also make DevonThink) use LSI.

  38. GigaOM » Blinkx, finally serves its purpose Wednesday, April 25, 2007

    [...] It was three years ago – June 17, 2004, I first met with Blinkx, a toddler of a start-up, showing off a tiny little downloadable software that added context to search – be it on your desktop or on the web. To say the least, I was suitably impressed. [...]

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