Written by Emre Sokullu and edited by Richard MacManus

When we did a poll asking what search approach stands the best chance of beating Google, personalized search came out tops with 22%. Collarity was the company we used as an example of such a service, so we wanted to find out more about it. Last week, I had the chance to meet Collarity founder Levy Cohen and his work-mates in Palo Alto and get some insight about their 2-year old, 15 person, angel funded company. We also managed to get some exclusive screenshots of the as yet unreleased Collarity Discovery, which you'll find at the bottom of this post.

Firstly a quick overview of Collarity. It's described as "community based search technology that automatically tailors each search to the specific interests of the individual." Let's explain this with an example. When we search, do our queries always return relevant results? Let's say you do a search on "execution". If you're a financial type of person, "execution" might refer to the management of a company. If you're a programmer you may mean running an application. Or perhaps you're looking for information on Saddam!

In search, putting social and personal variables into the equation is one way to improve results. Everyone should not get the same results; your results should be personalized. Also, searching on specific websites should return results that are influenced by the site's community. This is what Collarity is aiming to do. Collarity uses Yahoo in the background as its underlying search engine, but their patented features are:

  • Focus on "Search In Site" instead of Global Search
  • Compass: an innovative User Interface that allows you to easily distinguish Global, Personal and Community Search
  • Ability for Web Site Owners to get useful information about the people who visit their site


A Screenshot of Compass

Personalized Search Market

The Personalized search market is highly crowded, with well-funded startups like Wink, Rollyo, Swicki. But Collarity has a unique position - which we will call Behavioral Personalized Search. Collarity tracks your behaviors via javascript snippets placed in partner sites, to extract your personal tastes and your communities automatically. Other services (Wink, Swicki et al) require you to define your search engine manually, by entering your favorite keywords and web sites or by voting. 

To summarize the other approaches to personalized search:

Vote Driven Personalized Search You vote or bookmark if you like a site Del.icio.us, Wink
Manual Entry Personalized Search You enter the keywords and/org sites that you and your community might be interested in Rollyo, Swicki

So Collarity works on the 'collective intelligence' principle. All your search history is saved, so that they can find your internet usage attitudes and like-minded people (aka your communities). But also via Javascript, they track your behaviours on partner sites. The sites that Collarity has made deals with are currently confidential. While I can't disclose them, I recommend you the look at the sources of the sites you frequently visit, as you may find Collarity bits in the HTML. [Editor's Note: before you go looking, I can confirm that R/WW isn't one of the test sites!]

The advantage of Collarity over other approaches is the fact that it does not require you to change your behaviours. Your behaviours are tracked and clustered in the background by Collarity. Making the extra effort to enter keywords is actually a big burden for users. But think how you would feel if all your search results were magically customized for you without needing you to change your attitudes. For example, as an automobile collector you'd never see the animal Jaguar while you search the newest models. 

The disadvantage of Collarity is the potential privacy implications of having your behaviors tracked and recorded, without your knowledge.

Collarity Discovery for Site Owners

Collarity also has something new to offer site owners. You can essentially outsource the hassle of building and maintaining a 'search in site' system to Collarity, as well as track important data like who visits your site, what they search for. This might give you a better picture of your community and the textual dynamics driving your site. At the bottom of this post we have some exclusive screenshots from Collarity Discovery, a site-specific analytics interface.

Competition

Collarity's competition is the companies we mentioned above. But their biggest competition may end up coming from Google. Google has the advantage of dominating most of your internet sessions, so it has the biggest access to your personal data. Also Kaltix, which was snapped up by Google in 2003, was a pioneer in search personalization. Co-founded by PageRank guru Taher Haveliwala, Kaltix innovation allowed Google to compute pageranks 1000 times faster. But Google seems not to have focused on personalization since then, leaving a gap for Collarity and others to explore. Also don't forget that Collarity mostly focuses on search-in-site functionality instead of global search, and is more about innovative interfaces and personal/community searches.

The new free Yahoo powered OmniFind search-in-site solution of IBM may also be a threat to Collarity. Some site owners may want to rely on their own servers and not outsource search to another party. However OmniFind does not have the personalization, community clustering and site dynamics tracking capabilities of Collarity.

Conclusion

Collarity, along with Yahoo MindSet, SearchMash and the stealth mode Powerset, is one of the most promising search 2.0 companies. However Collarity needs to keep up the pace and announce their big deals as soon as possible. Then we'll have more opportunity to evaluate their technology.

Exclusive Screenshots

And a close-up of the above...

And a close-up...