Sure, today Google(s GOOG) is dominant in search, but it may not always be. And while Microsoft(s MSFT) is doing its best to hammer on the search giant on privacy-related issues, the threats to Google’s search business, such as the one posed by Apple’s(s AAPL) Siri technology, which bypasses search pages entirely, are far more disruptive than an ad campaign.
That is what Kansas City, Mo.-based startup Leap2 hopes its new search site that combines the web, location and social in a way that delivers detailed results while allowing for serendipitous discovery, will be: Disruptive in a way that draws search market share from Google. The startup launches its site Tuesday on mobiles and also said today it had raised $1.6 million in first round funding. The round was led by Dundee Venture Capital, with support from OpenAir Equity, Linseed Capital and the Wichita Technology Corporation.
Mike Farmer, the CEO of Leap2, is no stranger to search, having tried seven years ago with a web site called Kozoru. But this time he thinks that focusing on mobile, as well as bringing in social elements to a search gives end users better results as well as a few nice surprises.
For example, when the app opens, you see a home screen that offers the day’s news as a slate of pictures. Some are self-evident and others are perhaps a mystery. Clicking on a picture offers you one of the day’s top news stories. Once you enter a search term, the screens splits in half with the top half showing Twitter results related to the search and the bottom half showing images of the web sites that match your search.
Here’s where it gets dicey. Searches for “the best brunch in Austin” or “tacos and tequila Austin” (it’s a restaurant) worked well. I saw relevant websites, pictures of places, and even tweets from people who were there and a tweet promising me a discount next weekend at a brunch locale. But when I searched for my name and other people’s names, I started running into what is the bane of the mobile web — requests to download apps.
My people searches drew up magazine and LinkedIn(s LNKD) results that I couldn’t see without clicking through to the “no thanks” button on the screen that pops up asking me to download a mobile app. I, like the rest of the population, hate those screens. Farmer is hoping that the mobile web becomes less about apps and more about the web soon, but I’m not holding my breath.
Things like the discovery of discounts or even insights from Twitter, (Farmer wants to integrate FourSquare, Yelp(s YELP) and Facebook(s FB) eventually for the social aspects) plus the integrated location and directions, help make this a contender against Google Now, which I adore for its ability to read my calendar and tell me when to leave the house to make a meeting. Leap2 can’t offer that, and it’s going to face the same challenge that all search engines face, which is enticing users to click on it as opposed to going with the already-integrated search functions.
As for monetization, Farmer said that some time in the future Leap2 will integrate sponsored search results, initially among the social cards on the top half of the screen. The goal will be to play relevant results based on the location, the search or other information gleaned. Farmer gave the example of real-time deals. He plans to have the same image-filled-card-like interface that spans the app now, be the same interface for showing sponsored search ads as well.
The mobile app for iOS and Android launches Tuesday, with the website launching on Wednesday. Give it a try. I thought it was worth using, especially when I’m on the go, as it gives a much richer picture on the small screen than I might otherwise get.