December 17, 2003 5:58 PM PST

Plug-in gives shape to Google search

Groxis, a technology start-up that uses graphics to display Web search results, sees a gap in Google's widely used search engine and wants to capitalize on it.

The Sausalito, Calif.-based company said that in two weeks it will offer customers of its desktop search application the ability to download a free plug-in to search Google's more than 3 billion documents.

The tool is designed to let Groxis customers organize Google search results into graphical maps, categorizing relevant data in relation to keyword queries--something Google itself does not do.

For example, a user who searched on the term "Wi-Fi" would see spheres of categories on the subject, with labeled topics such as "news," "802.11" and "hot spots." The user could then delve deeper into Web pages on the topic of specific interest by clicking on a sphere.

"This plug-in will allow users to map Google results into a form that is usable for educators, students and researchers, where long lists of search results, organized by PageRank (Google's algorithm), cannot provide that capability or value," said R.J. Pittman, CEO of Groxis.

Groxis sells its search software, Grokker 2, released this week, for $49. Web surfers can try it free for 30 days. The desktop application simultaneously queries the databases of six search engines--including Yahoo, MSN and Teoma--and visually organizes the information into categories so that users can pinpoint what they're looking for. It can also search the online store of Amazon.com and display pictorial results.

Other Web search engines such as Teoma have touted the ability to categorize results, but without the graphical interface. They have not caught on with consumers as widely as Google has.

The Google plug-in makes use of Google APIs, or application programming interfaces. The Google APIs let noncommercial software developers query Google's database free up to 1,000 times a day. Therefore, Grokker 2 users must obtain a developer's key from Google before using the plug-in.

Pittman said that he is talking to Google executives about exploring a more commercial relationship in the future.

Analysts said that Groxis and its Google plug-in could be especially helpful to researchers. "It's an interesting opportunity. Google keeps growing and growing and this is a way to manage that for aggressive searchers," said Gary Stein, an analyst with Jupiter Research, a market research firm.

Indeed, Pittman said Groxis has drawn interest from academia. It has sold the software to the University of Nevada, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among others. Some public schools, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, are also signing up to use it.

Pittman said that in the coming year, Groxis plans to introduce dozens of more plug-ins and sources of searchable information for the application, including tools to search eBay and the Library of Congress. The privately held company released the first version of its software in late 2002. It updated it this week to make it more consumer friendly.

The software works with PCs running the Windows operating system. It should support Apple's Macintosh OS X platform in the first quarter of next year.

 

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