Two local firms are seeking to profit through specialized search engines that offer alternatives to Google and Yahoo, the biggest gateways to the Internet for millions of people hunting for information daily.
One of them, Vienna-based Convera Corp., is hoping that its Excalibur technology and a multibillion-page index it has compiled will catch on with companies and federal agencies that want to display their own names on a private-label search engine.
Pat Condo, chief executive of Convera, said yesterday that a number of firms have told him they want a search engine on their Web sites that enables them to maintain direct relationships with advertisers more easily than they can with Google and Yahoo. One federal agency, which he said he could not identify because of a business agreement, is licensing the Excalibur technology for search.
But Fredrick Marckini, chief executive of search marketer iProspect.com, said he sees more opportunity in an approach called "vertical search" that focuses on finding data in narrow industry sectors, as opposed to Google or Yahoo's broad, "horizontal" search technique.
Specialized search is the strategy being pursued by Washington-based IT.com, a search engine for business users looking to buy or research a range of technology products. "I'm very bullish on vertical search," Marckini said. "The only way someone will get a piece of Google's market share is to develop a robust vertical search engine."
The search engine's rankings are based on input from large numbers of technology users. "This is the wisdom of crowds," said Mark Cordover, chief executive of IT.com. "We care about what peers think about who the players are in a particular area of information technology." Cordover said he has invested millions of dollars of his own money into the privately held venture.
Convera, by contrast, is a public company backed by big-name investors. Last July, Legg Mason's Bill Miller, the highly regarded mutual fund manager, and New York-based Allen & Co. pumped nearly $30 million into Convera. Miller has invested successfully in Google, Amazon and other prosperous high-tech firms. Allen & Co. owns 49 percent of Convera's stock.
Over the years, Convera's business has been concentrated in the federal intelligence and defense sectors, with government agencies relying on the company for technology that helps employees find information within their own organizations.
After Convera indexed billions of Web pages, set up a second operations site and refined its technology, a number of companies and agencies are testing the new offering.
"A lot of people who feel threatened by the big search engines became interested," Condo said yesterday. "Our goal is to turn prospects into customers beginning in the November-December time frame."
Executives in the search engine industry said that while Convera may succeed in the federal intelligence community where it has relationships already, it faces an uphill battle in its efforts to persuade businesses to adopt Excalibur, given the strength of Google and Yahoo.
Meanwhile, the company has posted millions of dollars of losses. "We lost a considerable amount of money last year building this thing," Condo said. "We are continuing to invest and hope that . . . next year, we will start to experience revenue to offset the expenses."
Kevin Lee, executive chairman of search engine marketer Did-it.com, said he doubts Convera will succeed. "They are up against some serious players," Lee said. "They are going to be graded for relevance [in search results] against stiff competition."