In the Briefing Room: Kosmix

Knowledge workers have traditionally had a love/hate relationship with search technologies.  The vast amounts of information that we must shift through to find data that is relevant to us in a given situation make search tools a necessity.  We love being able to quickly find the current price of a product and the location of stores selling it or the most recent article on a key competitor.  The flip side is that our search tools actually fail us most of the time; 50 percent of search queries fail outright (these we are aware of), and of the 50 percent that we believe succeed, a further 50 percent of those fail us in some way that we may not even realize.

Although we have largely resigned ourselves to a world of Google searches that return results instead of answers, there is no shortage of those who are laboring to reimage search and attempt to address some of its fundamental flaws.

One such company, Kosmix, is taking a slightly unorthodox approach: they are not even attempting to fix search.  Instead, Kosmix is targeting the way in which we browse topics, and leaving the navigation aspect of search (finding a specific Web site) to Google and its ilk.  By separating discovery and research from traditional search, Kosmix is attempting to divide and conquer the search problem by zeroing in on a key weakness of results-based searching, namely the presentation of the contextual information that surrounds a topic.

Kosmix’ core product is its eponymously-named Web site, currently in beta, which allows users to browse content by topic.  The content is pulled from around the Web and presented in modules; a search for netbooks, for example, yields a definition from Wikipedia, images from Google and Flickr, related question and answer threads from Yahoo Answers, reviews and guides from EHow, video content from Truveo and Blinkx, Google blog search results, content from tech-related Web sites, relevant Facebook groups, shopping options from EBay and Amazon, and a summary of related items such as specific brands of netbooks and related topics that can be drilled down.

For comparison, a Google search for netbooks resulted in 35,700,000 results, with the only organization of the links being small subsets for news and shopping.

The content that Kosmix presents may not please everyone; automated editorial choices are made as to where to pull content from on a query-by-query basis based on what is available, the value of a site, and the relevance of articles.  For example, the system takes a query then determines what video site’s content is best suited, based on relevancy and ratings on the site.  Kosmix acknowledges that the aggregated content is not always a perfect fit but is working to improve the system in order to deliver better results as it moves forward with the product.

Kosmix is a useful tool for research and discovery around a specific topic, and does a good job of presenting content in a manageable manner, from a broad variety of sources.  Leaving navigation to the established search companies is a wise move for Kosmix, as is demonstrating that there is a better way to find content online than Google searches that return results lacking in context, and more often than not, lacking the information we were looking for in the first place.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

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