Search Tool Combines Online, Local Data

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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 viewing on their screens.

The tool, also called Blinkx, is available as a free download. 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 the screen, the program places six small icons for those destinations, which the company calls channels, plus one for local documents. For example, if users want to view a list of local documents relevant to what they are reading, they would click on the appropriate icon and a list of local documents will pop up. Otherwise, Blinkx works unobtrusively in the background until users request a list of relevant documents or links.

New Approach

"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," says Kathy Rittweger, the company's co-founder. "You have a unified view of recommendations coming from various sources all at once."

Blinkx isn't intended 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 says. "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 capability to search a local hard drive with online resources, Blinkx jumps over much bigger competitors that are still talking about technology Blinkx has in fact delivered, says Gary Stein, a Jupiter Research analyst. "It's the classic small company that moves quickly," he says. "They're definitely innovating."

Although Blinkx's Web index can't compare with those of Google and Yahoo, the tool is significant because it offers a different way to search, Stein says. "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 says. "I've tried the product and I'm surprised at how well it works and how relevant the results are."

Expansion Planned

Blinkx can index also e-mail from the Qualcomm's Eudora and Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express clients. The company hopes to also support IBM Lotus Notes clients before year-end, Rittweger says. Its local hard-drive indexing is now limited to text-based files, but should eventually index local multimedia files such as video and audio files, she adds.

Also in development is expansion of the online multimedia channel, which now is limited to publicly-available clips from the BBC archives, to support sources from both the U.S. and Europe, Rittweger says. A Blinkx version for the Apple Macintosh is also in the works and should be ready by the end of the year, she says.

Blinkx will remain free for end users, but the company is seeking partnerships and other revenue sources. Partners may sponsor specific channels, such as a sports magazine sponsoring a sports channel that also features the magazine's content. Blinkx may license its technology to other vendors for bundling with systems, and is even considering selling targeted advertising similar to sponsored search ads.

Rittweger emphasizes the company's respect for privacy, and says it collects no personal information about Blinkx users. For example, it's not necessary to register in order to download the tool. Also, the hard-drive indexing information doesn't leave a user's PC, and will not be accessed to target ads, she says. No information on the hard drive is collected, nor does Blinkx track sites the user's visit.

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