Startup OpenCola Readies New P2P Search Engine - InformationWeek

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Startup OpenCola Readies New P2P Search Engine

OpenCola is set to begin beta testing Folders, a search engine based on peer-to-peer technology.

OpenCola Ltd. wants to cut through the information glut of peer-to-peer networking. As the company's founder Cory Doctorow puts it, the key is "discovering the things we don't know we don't know." He's not stuttering but identifying a real problem with information searches--it's tough to ask for something until you know it exists.

OpenCola's answer is Folders--P2P collaborative search software that's slated to be on OpenCola.com in late April for public beta testing. It's designed to adapt to users' preferences and provide increasingly relevant content. Users put files of interest--say, an article about security holes in routers--into a folder on their desktop. OpenCola's Folders crawls the network, migrating to the desktops of anyone likely to have the router information. The software finds other files held by those with similar interests and suggests those as well--for example, someone with router-security content might commonly have load-balancing content, too. When a user nixes a suggestion like that, Folder retains the user's preferences for information sources and will change subsequent searches accordingly.

If a user throws away a suggested file from a particular peer, the software will watch that person's files less closely while the most relevant sources are tapped for suggestions first. "With a network like this, the collaborative intelligence of everyone who makes decisions about keeping things or throwing them away will form a kind of human-distributed editorship," Doctorow says.

To help speed download time when users find files they want, Folders uses an OpenCola program called SwarmCast, which can download different parts of a file from multiple sources simultaneously. Each suggested file has metadata describing the file's previous locations. SwarmCast then opens simultaneous sessions with users to see who still has copies and who has available bandwidth. "If one user has a 1K-per-second throughput because they're on a slow connection, you probably will only get one chunk from them," Doctorow says, because dozens of other piecemeal downloads will be happening at the same time, saving users from the all-too-common frustration of abandoning downloads.

Most of OpenCola's financing has come from Battery Ventures, whose past investments include Akamai Technologies, Infoseek, and Nextel. Initially, OpenCola plans to target software companies with sizable developer communities as niche market, but it envisions broader business applications as the company grows. "Battery invested in OpenCola because we believe a relevance-driven content-management platform has profound benefits for CRM applications, knowledge management, and various consumer applications," says Larry Cheng, senior associate at Battery Ventures. "Oftentimes, people confuse relevance with personalization," Cheng says. "Folders' underlying technology will demonstrate that there is an order of magnitude difference."

Cheryl Currid, president of research group Currid & Co. Inc., hasn't tested Folders herself, but says this type of application certainly has potential. "I think there's incredible power in smart search agents," she says. "I love the idea of something that can do additional thinking on my behalf."

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