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Search is a market many assume is over as far as startups are concerned. After all, how could anyone compete with Google (s goog) and Microsoft (s msft)? A new service called [email protected] thinks there is still room to change the way we search, however — not on the desktop, but on mobile devices, where the traditional search engine paradigm arguably isn’t as useful. The company launched today with an iPhone (s aapl) app and a $7-million investment from Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and says it has a new way of searching that’s not only better, but will also bring a more open approach to the current Google-controlled market.
Co-founder Ami Ben-David said in an interview before the [email protected] launch that the current way we search for information on a mobile device is too cumbersome, since it usually involves typing words into Google and then scrolling through a list of links, trying desperately to find one that has the information we’re looking for — and isn’t a confusing mess on a mobile screen. So Ben-David says he and his two co-founders, all serial entrepreneurs from Israel, decided to reinvent how that process works for a mobile and social world. Says Ben-David:
We wanted to change the whole paradigm of who answers your question when you do a search. With [email protected], it’s not a central authority — it’s the sites and the publishers themselves who tell you directly.
When you use the [email protected] app (iTunes link) to do the most common types of mobile searches — such as looking for information about movies, music, restaurants and shopping — instead of a list of links, the service brings up a slideshow of mobile-optimized versions of the most common apps and services for that search. So if you type in search terms that have to do with a movie, it will bring up HTML5 versions of Flixster and IMDB (s amzn) and any other app or service that has results.
As demonstrated in the video embedded below, you can then swipe through and browse the results in those mobile-optimized pages, just as you would if you were using the Flixster or IMDB or Amazon apps all by themselves. Users can click on a “heart” symbol to show that the results met their expectations, and those social cues are used to filter the results for future searches, said Ben-David. Results can also be easily shared through Twitter and Facebook.
In some ways, what [email protected] is proposing seems like an extra step — after all, why would you use an app to search other apps? But it makes more sense when you consider how app-centric the mobile world is, and also how difficult it can be to browse for information on a small screen. [email protected] quickly searches all the services that are optimized for mobile (if a service has an app but not an HTML5 web version, [email protected] either creates one or helps the service do so). For things like movies and music and shopping, it works quite well.
And what about for things that don’t fall easily into those categories? For news, the service pulls up HTM5-optimized versions of the top news apps or websites for the categories that match your search, and for anything with a social element to it — such as a search for a common name — the service will search your Facebook account, your LinkedIn profile and your Twitter stream if you agree to connect them to the app.
Going up against Google is not for the faint of heart, Ben-David admits. But the [email protected] founder says he’s convinced a more open and mobile-centric approach can succeed (ironically, the clash between [email protected] and Google is reinforced when you try to do a Google search for information about the startup: because the search giant doesn’t make it easy to search for the @ symbol, it is difficult to find anything but millions of results for the terms “do” and “at”).
So can [email protected] revolutionize mobile search? Draper Fisher Jurvetson — which is adding DFJ managing director Tim Draper to the startup’s board of directors — clearly thinks it can. But doing so is going to require changing the way users think about search. Instead of seeing Google as the default, the company is asking them to see [email protected] and its app as the central window into mobile results. And that’s not going to be an easy task.