Looksmart bets on distributed computing
LookSmart is hoping to spin a small acquisition into a big project that will use distributed computing to improve its Web search results.
In January, LookSmart quietly bought the assets of Grub, an Oklahoma-based developer of technology that lets people donate their computers' otherwise unused processing power to run spiders, or software programs that continually crawl the Net, indexing pages and words. This collective, or distributed, computing power could be used to find new, outdated or updated Web pages daily.
LookSmart, which licenses editorial and commercial directory listings to Microsoft's MSN and other Web sites, paid US$1.3 million in cash and stock for Grub, according to a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. LookSmart said it is testing the Grub system and plans to unveil the distributed computing project in early April.
"Most engines only update their entire document catalog once a month, because there's an inherent computing problem: They can't do it any faster," said Pete Adams, chief technology officer of LookSmart. "The goal of this technology is to be able to crawl every document on the Internet every day. We can only do that if we can grow the number of people that are running the software--the computing power we would use is a function of how many people we have donating their computer power."
The Grub buyout underscores growing interest in distributed computing, in which computing jobs are farmed out in small chunks across the Internet to the otherwise untapped processing cycles of ordinary PCs. The movement has had grand ambitions--to find a cure for cancer or signs of intelligent life in the universe, among other things. But thus far, its chief successes have been curiosities such as the discovery of gigantic prime numbers.
LookSmart's long-shot bet on Grub highlights the race to innovate in the search engine arena. A handful of companies are vying for control in the niche, one of the few areas of the Net economy to have generated strong revenue and profit growth since the bursting of the dot-com bubble.
Yahoo just completed its acquisition of Inktomi, while Overture Services recently decided to snap up AltaVista and some of the assets of Norway's Fast Search & Transfer. Meanwhile, Disney has suggested that it might be interested in selling its Infoseek search engine.
Story by Stephanie Olsen
Source: ZD Net