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9/29/2004
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Search Underdog To Take On Google, Microsoft, And Amazon

Blinkx 2.0 promises to proactively and reactively scan the Web, PC applications, and MP3 music files.

Sometime soon, Amazon.com, Apple Computer, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo may realize that a San Francisco-based startup named Blinkx has found what they've been looking for--a better way to search.

Blinkx 2.0, available as beta software, will be released within the next two weeks. Blinkx, which is free, takes the form of a toolbar that appears across applications such as Microsoft's Office and Outlook and Web browsers, and generates both proactive and reactive search results. Proactive searches require keywords or full sentence queries, while reactive searches deliver results based on a summarization of a document's content.

Blinkx can search a variety of formats, ranging from Microsoft Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Word to Adobe's PDF, JPG, video, and MP3 files. And its searches can be aimed at specific channels, including local files, the Web (news, shopping, and business sites), and Weblogs. Soon after the 2.0 release, peer-to-peer MP3 file searching will be added, and Mac support is planned, too.

The major Internet search players are moving in a similar direction. Microsoft has previewed a new MSN.com desktop search tool slated for release next year. Apple is working on Spotlight, technology to be included in its OS X version 10.4 release next year that, according to the company, will make searching "smarter, more flexible and powerful" by indexing the metadata of files and documents. Google and Yahoo are reportedly working on a desktop search tool, too. And Amazon recently debuted its own search site, A9.com.

"We're definitely aware of the competition," says Kathy Rittweger, Blinkx's co-founder and marketing director. "But the genesis of this was based on human need."

Blinkx, which launched version 1.0 in July, boasts nearly 1 million downloads. "Considering that they've just been out in the market for a couple of months and they've done very little, if any, marketing, I think it's pretty significant," says Patrick Mahoney, a Yankee Group analyst. "What they're doing is taking the search market to the next level."

Mahoney has begun using the software himself. "When they were demonstrating it to me," he says, "I was thinking about conversations I had with MSN and Yahoo and other people. It just seems like they're a step ahead of the big guys."

Blinkx 2.0 represents a substantial improvement over 1.0 in terms of relevance, document types searched, and ease of use. But when it comes to Web searches, Google still delivers more relevant results, Mahoney says. "Google has some patents that make their search technology superior."

Rittweger hopes one day that people use the term "Blinkx" much like they already use "Google" as a verb in lieu of "search." Blinkx is close to unveiling partnerships that could help the boost revenue, she adds.

Mahoney thinks the company has a shot at changing the vernacular. "It will take awhile and they'll have some very steep hills to climb because you do have these very strong incumbents," he says, "but if they can prove their value proposition in an effective way, I think that more and more consumers will start to use it through word of mouth. That's basically how Google got so popular so quickly."

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