August 4, 2004 4:28 PM PDT

New search tool gets billionaire's backing

Broadcast.com founder and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is backing a new Internet search start-up that aims to take over where Google leaves off.

Dallas-based upstart IceRocket is trying to throw a new twist on search results, along with some financial and advisory help from billionaire Cuban. The company is mixing its own Web search technology with "metasearch" features that tap into rival engines.

But it's hoping to set itself apart with features, such as more powerful image searching and an e-mail-based service that can be used on handhelds and other mobile devices.

"We don't need to recreate what (Google) is doing. There is a ton of room on the edges to do well things that they don't do well," IceRocket CEO Blake Rhodes said in an e-mail interview. Google users are now "facing an overwhelming volume of choices to the point where you always feel like you are missing something," he said.

IceRocket is part of a new generation of search engines, some of which hope to "out-Google Google," and some of which simply want to capture a narrowly defined portion of the Internet search market.

While none have anything but a tiny fraction of the audience of Google, the search giant's impending initial public offering--which is expected to raise as much as $3.3 billion--has been tantalizing for entrepreneurs and venture capitalists of all stripes.

The market is facing new competition from the other side of the spectrum, too. Microsoft has made it clear that it is devoting increasing resources to search, both on its MSN Web site and in future software products that will also search computers' hard drives, e-mail folders and other now-obscure corners of a person's digital world.

News.com publisher CNET Networks relaunched its own metasearch site, Search.com, on Wednesday.

Like previous generations of metasearch engines, IceRocket relies on some of its primary rivals, ranging from Yahoo and Ask Jeeves' Teoma to littler sites, including LookSmart's WiseNut.

Each search result provides a small thumbnail snapshot of the site it points to, which the company says will help users decide if they actually want to visit or not.

A feature still being tested enables cell phone or PDA users to send an e-mail with a search term to the site and get an e-mail back with the top five search results.

Rhodes said Cuban was an investor but declined to say how much money the Dallas entrepreneur provided.

On his Web log, Cuban said he was helping suggest features that would be useful.

"I've offered to help come up with some unique features that hopefully can allow them to separate from the pack," Cuban wrote. "To me, this is a unique way to 'design my own search engine.'"

 

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