Christchurch software developer Eurekster has created a search engine tool which makes the task of tracking down information on the web more of a team effort.
The tool, also called Eurekster, refines searches and calls up results based on what friends and contacts in customers' online "social networks" have previously shown interest in.
Users sign up for a log-on and password and encourage friends and colleagues to also use Eurekster.
If a person's friends do a search on digital cameras and go to particular websites to seek product information or to place orders, then those sites will come to the top of the list if the customer later searches for information on digital cameras on the web.
Friends can help filter out a lot of the garbage dredged up by internet searches and time can be saved in the workplace by getting to more relevant resources faster.
Grant Ryan, chief executive of Eurekster, says social networking is the most common way of filtering information in "the real world", usually through word-of-mouth recommendations.
"You ask someone who you know and trust. We do it all the time. The people we choose to hang out with have a similar view of life. They pass on good information."
Mr Ryan says the internet industry's major players had put personalisation in the "too hard" basket. Now they are likely to be taking notice.
He says Eurekster's approach is the next logical step from existing methods of ranking search results. These can involve search engine staff deciding what information on the web is likely to be most relevant and automatic systems that weigh up the number of links to a site.
Popular search terms used by customers' acquaintances can also be displayed on customers' Eurekster home page.
Eurekster will perform a "regular" unaided search if customers don't log-on with a password or select that as an option.
Soon Eurekster will add tabs to the search engine so that – once logged in – customers can flick from a regular search engine view to the socially-filtered one, or to views that take account of the search actions of particular groups of friends or colleagues.
The tool is designed to ignore friends' searches related to pornography, to reduce the risk of people finding out more about their acquaintances than they would care to.
Eurekster sits on top of search engine results generated by Yahoo subsidiary Fast, which Mr Ryan says has a website index similar in size to market leader Google.
He says Eurekster could be implemented to work in conjunction with any search engine. It does not compete, but rather seeks to partner with major search engine providers.
The carrot is that Eurekster's technology will make customers' loyal to a particular search engine as they return to benefit from the personalised approach, he says.
Eurekster has been incorporated in the US and is jointly owned by New Zealand-based sister companies SLI Systems and Real Contacts.
SLI is 15 per cent owned by US media giant NBC. Most of the rest of the owners of SLI and Real Contacts are New Zealanders.
Mr Ryan says the group has patented some very specific pieces of intellectual property used in the product and has further patents being processed.
He says Eurekster has combined its parent firms' six years of experience in search technology and three years experience in social networking technology.
SLI Systems serves up 300 million Internet searches a month and Mr Ryan says it is likely to triple that volume in the next couple of months.
He says most of SLI's business at the moment involves handling keyword suggestions. For example, if a user puts the word "diabetes" into a search engine, SLI's software will suggest "glucose" and "insulin" as related search items.
Mr Ryan says Eurekster's technology will be offered as another added-value service for search engine customers and as an add-on for other web-based social networking services.
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