Search tool offers links by reading screen

Startup company Blinkx has launched a search tool that compiles on-the-fly lists of Web pages and local hard-drive documents that are relevant to whatever text users are looking at on their screens.

The tool, also called Blinkx, can be downloaded for free at the company's Web site (www.blinkx.com). Once installed, it indexes documents on the user's hard drive, including e-mail messages and attachments and Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. It also points users to five types of online destinations: general Web sites, news sources, multimedia files, Web logs and products.

At the top of users' screens, the program places six small icons for each of those destinations, which the company calls channels: local documents and the five online destinations. If users want to view a list of local documents that are relevant to what they are reading, they would click on the appropriate icon and a list of local documents would pop up. The other five channels work in the same way. Otherwise, Blinkx works unobtrusively in the background until users request to see a list of relevant documents or links.

"Blinkx is reading whatever I'm reading and then it's going off and looking for related content in these different channels and bringing that back to me before I even ask for it," said Kathy Rittweger, the company's co-founder. "You have a unified view of recommendations coming from various sources all at once."

Blinkx's purpose isn't to go head-to-head against the big search engines from Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. "That would be quite daunting for a little company like us," Rittweger said. "We've taken the search engine and removed all the mechanics of search like coming up with keywords, looking at results and figuring out which ones are relevant and which ones are not. We're making the technology figure all those things out for us."

By combining the ability to search a local hard drive as well as a variety of online sources, Blinkx has jumped over much bigger competitors that are still talking about technology that Blinkx has in fact delivered, said Gary Stein, a Jupiter Research analyst. "It's the classic small company that moves quickly," he said. "They're definitely innovating."

Although Blinkx's Web index can't compare with the ones from Google and Yahoo, the tool is significant because it offers a different way to search, according to Stein. "It's a software application that just listens and pays attention to what you're doing, and (based on that) provides you with links as if you had conducted a search," he said. "I've tried the product and I'm surprised at how well it works and how relevant the results are."

Currently, Blinkx can index e-mail from the Qualcomm's Eudora program and the Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express clients, but it hopes to add support for IBM's Lotus Notes clients before the end of the year, Rittweger said. Its local hard-drive indexing is currently limited to text-based files, but the company wants to enable the product to index local multimedia files as well, such as video and audio files, she said.

Also in the plans is an expansion of the online multimedia channel, which right now is limited to publicly-available clips from the BBC archives, to offer an assortment of sources from both the U.S. and Europe, Rittweger said. A Blinkx version for Apple Computer's Macintosh platform is also in the works and should be ready before the year is out, she said.

While Blinkx will remain free for end users, the company has identified three areas that it is actively pursuing to generate revenue. One is signing up partners to sponsor specific channels, such as a sports magazine sponsoring a sports-related channel that would feature the magazine's online content in it. Another revenue opportunity could come from licensing Blinkx to other companies via OEM (original equipment manufacturer) deals. Finally, it could also sell targeted advertising similar to the sponsored search ads that search engines sell.

The company is very mindful about privacy concerns and collects no personal information about Blinkx users, Rittweger said. For example, it's not necessary to register in order to download the tool; users just click on the download button at the Blinkx Web site without having to enter any information. And the hard-drive indexing information doesn't leave a user's PC, nor is it used in any way, not even to deliver the targeted ads the company plans to sell, Rittweger said. No information on the hard drive is collected, nor does Blinkx track sites the user's visit.

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service
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