I'm at the Alternative Search Engines Day, in San Francisco, an event put on by our network blog AltSearchEngines. We started out with a keynote talk by ASE editor Charles Knight, who noted that alternative search engines only have about 1.7% market share combined. He thinks this is too small, so he wants all of the "alts" - you can see a list of them on our subsite The Search Race - to band together to make a bigger impact on the search market.

Charles discussed current aggregation approaches such as Sputtr, which puts multiple search engines onto one page (see screenshot below), but he also outlined a vision for a Virtual World for alt search engines.


Sputtr

Charles pointed out that although Sputtr is a great app, it is difficult for mainstream users to grok. For one thing ordinary users won't know how to make sense of all the logos. Also people outside the tech industry will not know many of the brands of the smaller search companies. So Charles suggested that a virtual world approach could be the answer, whereby different alt search engines are represented in a 3D world according to the type of search they provide. For example if you are looking for a job, then there will be a virtual representation of this in the 3D world and a number of job search engines available to meet that need.

This "federated search" approach, as someone in the audience termed it, is one way for the hundreds of small search startups to increase their overall market share. Another approach is to create a common platform for alts, using APIs and UI standards (suggested over lunch to me by Morgan Snyder from allth.at).

Also on the opening discussion panel were myself, Nitin Karandikar from The Software Abstractions Blog, and Henrick Kac from BlogDimension. Nitin recently wrote a post entitled Cooperation of Alt Search Engines: A Manifesto (original here), which outlined 5 possibilities for alts to cooperate - e.g. "Search Federations of complementary ASEs".


Opening panel, photo by Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Conclusion

The overarching theme to AltSearchEngines Day is to encourage the alts to band together and help each other reach the mainstream audience. Anyone who regularly reads AltSearchEngines will know that there is a ton of innovation in search, literally hundreds of niche and vertical search startups. So this effort to join together to compete with (or complement) the likes of Google and Microsoft is very commendable - and as I mentioned in the panel, ReadWriteWeb heartily supports it.

Special thanks to Charles Knight for the vision and pulling this day together, and also LA Lassek and the SeeqPod team for organizing the event. Thanks as well to the sponsors of this event: SeeqPod, UpTake, HealthPricer, MatchPoint, GoPubMed, BlogDimension.

When I was doing the intros at the start, I noted that Charles is "the voice of alternative search engines" in this industry. He really is galvinising and leading the alts forward as a group. Be sure to subscribe to AltSearchEngines to track this initiative.