Staff Writer, CNET News.com
GuruNet—a reference service that bypasses search engines to yield succinct information on terms in any document—launched a new Web site Monday that it insists will not compete with Google.
GuruNet, a New York-based, publicly traded company with a research and development unit in Jerusalem, gained attention in 1999 for its desktop application that made any word in a document searchable with a single click.
Now, after an unsuccessful foray into the enterprise search market, the company has returned to its consumer roots by retiring its subscription service in favor of an ad-supported revenue model and launching Answers.com, a Web site that will allow people to access its information warehouse without downloading the GuruNet application.
"The consumer market is a great place to be," said GuruNet CEO Bob Rosenschein, who described his company's enterprise foray as "painful." "All the metrics are up: connectivity, usage, number of searches, length of queries—everything about looking things up on the Internet is growing," he said.
While Google offers dictionary definitions of its own, above its list of Web page results, Rosenschein insists his company is in a different business.
"We believe sometimes you don't want to search for Web pages, and what you want is a quick definition," Rosenschein said. "Sometimes people want information very quickly and that's not Google's strength. We are not competing head to head with any of the search engines. We complement or supplement their offerings. Google is in a league of its own."
In fact, GuruNet offers another avenue into Google's catalogue of Web pages, images and news headlines.
The key difference between GuruNet's Answers.com and a search engine like Google is that Answers.com offers an array of editorially produced reference materials, while search engines list Web pages their algorithms deem relevant to the search term.
A search on Google for Shirley Chisholm—the former New York City representative in the House of Representatives who was the first black woman to serve in Congress—turned up a news headline about her death New Year's Day and links to 90,000 Web pages. On Answers.com, the results page displayed four different brief biographies, along with links to Google results and other Web resources.
GuruNet boasts about 100 different information sources populating its results, including search engines, encyclopedias, almanacs, image databases and dictionaries. Some of those information sources are free; GuruNet licenses the rest.
GuruNet faded from view a year after remaking itself as enterprise search provider Atomica. That market proved a bad fit for the company, which found enterprise adoption cycles too slow and costly.
While GuruNet tried its corporate fortunes, the consumer search market heated up, with Google rising to the top of the heap and enjoying a spectacular initial public offering.
GuruNet made its own IPO in October.
The company has since gained attention for providing reference results in Amazon.com's A9 search site. GuruNet also supplies information for Comet Systems.
The company acquired the Answers.com domain early last year for $80,000.