What Is Kosmix? A Short Q&A With Venky Harinarayan

Recently, I had the opportunity to have a short interview with Kosmix Co-Founder Venky Harinarayan. Many people may ask what is Kosmix, and why it looks so different from traditional search engines. I figured I should ask them, and little did I know that they would be announcing the acquisition of Cruxlux at the same time. So, without further ado, here is what Venky had to say.

Q: The main Kosmix page is different than a typical search engine. There is some social news information, recent health care reform tweets and assorted other posts and links from entertainment sites.  What do you expect a user to do?

VENKY: We designed the Kosmix homepage to show you what’s happening on the Web right now.  You can read the latest news from CNN, NewsWeek and Yahoo Buzz, catch up on the most popular videos circulating on YouTube and Hulu, check out deals from Woot and Amazon, and see what’s trending on Twitter and Google.  It’s a great way to get a quick overview of what’s cool on the Web right this minute.  We hear from users all the time that the Kosmix home page is the first place they go online every morning.

Q: You describe yourselves with “Come to Kosmix when you want to learn more about a topic or explore what’s happening now on the Web. We’ll show you content that you many never have discovered otherwise, and we’ll give you an at-a-glance look at everything related to the topics that interest you most. Think of Kosmix as your guide for exploring the Web.” So, you are not a search engine and you are not a directory. What short phrase would you use to describe it to someone? Discovery engine? Topic search?

VENKY: From our perspective, there are two navigation paradigms on the Web:  Search and Browse.

Search lets you find specific bits of information or navigate to sites you already know.  Search has its place.  If you want to search for a phone number or a Web page you already know, search is good and the model is thriving.

But Search really breaks down when you don’t know *exactly* what you’re looking for.  Some examples:  You’re going on vacation to the Rocky Mountains, and want to get some recommendations about what to do while you’re there; or you hear about a cool new movie and want to learn more about it; or someone in your family has been diagnosed with anemia, and you want to find out more about the condition.  In these cases, the 10 blue links you get from search sites are a painful way to explore the Web.

That’s where Kosmix comes in.  We let you browse the Web by topic, and show you the best content about that topic, all on a single page.  People think of us as an exploration engine.  We’ve also been called a reference engine.

Q: The search results page is obviously different than most search engines. But is there anything else that differentiates Kosmix? Basically, why should I use Kosmix and not something like Google?

VENKY: We’re different in a few ways.  For starters, we understand the relationships between topics to a degree that the Web hasn’t seen before.  So if you hear a great song on the radio and want to find out more about the band, for example, we’ll also show you other bands that are similar in style or that have a connection to the music you liked.  Search engines can’t do that.

Also, we’re selective about what we show you about any topic.  Say you want to know how to make Black Forest Cake. We won’t show you ALL of the tens of millions of references to Black Forest Cake on the Web, because that wouldn’t be helpful for you.  Instead, we show you what the most trusted sites on the Web have to offer:  you’ll get recipes, pictures of how to decorate the cake, videos demonstrating the correct baking techniques, and nutritional information so that you’ll know how many calories the cake has.  So we give you a much quicker, more visual path to the information you want.

Finally, at the technical level, we work very differently than traditional search engines.  Search engines like Google see everything on the Web in terms of keywords and Web pages.  We take a more integrated approach, and look at the Web in terms of connections and Web Services. This helps us pull together a lot of useful metadata that search engines typically don’t show – e.g., price of items, dates and locations of concerts – and also allows us to show you more than just text–so you’ll get widgets, videos, audio clips, maps, etc. It’s a very different user experience.

Q: How difficult is it competing in a space dominated by the likes of Google, Yahoo and now Bing?

VENKY: We’re happy for Google, Yahoo and Bing to own the search market because, as I said, Kosmix offers a completely different navigational paradigm:  Browse.  Kosmix is about reinventing Browse, just as Google reinvented Search.

The truth is that we complement Google and these other search engines very nicely.  If you want to find something specific, use Google.  If you want to find out more about something, use Kosmix.

Q: Has the rise of real-time updates from Facebook and Twitter changed your approach?

VENKY: The trend toward real-time is one of the most exciting things that’s happening to the Web right now.  We do some integration of Twitter and Facebook into our topic pages, so that you can see the buzz about your topic alongside more permanent information like definitions.  We also have a personal news site, Meehive, that gives you breaking news about the things you’re interested in.  For both Kosmix and MeeHive, we’re currently working on several projects in our labs that will give users even greater access to real-time news and information.

Q: How do you see Cruxlux fitting into your future plans?

VENKY: Cruxlux has been doing some amazing things with the semantic Web, particularly in terms of how different people, places and things are connected.  Their team and technology fits perfectly with the work we’ve also been doing in the area.

We expect to integrate the Cruxlux technology into Kosmix over the next six months.  On the technical level, Cruxlux has developed a large taxonomy that maps relationships between things, and we plan to add this to our Kosmix categorization engine–which is the largest of its kind on the Web today.  At the user level, you’ll soon be able to see how different topics are related.  Our current ‘Related in the Kosmos’ section on each topic page will give explanations of these relationships.  This will bring more context to each topic page, and help you better understand connections between things.

This is our first acquisition, and we’re thrilled to have them on board.

Before I conclude this post, I want to thank Kosmix and Venky for taking the time to answer these questions. Obviously, they have been very busy organizing the Cruxlux acquisition.

So, if you have not used Kosmix before, I recommend you take a look. Do not think of it as a search engine, because you will be disappointed. However as Venky said, Kosmix is more of an exploration or reference engine. It is definitely a different type of site, and the Cruxlux acquisition should make them even stronger.

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