October 6, 2004

Snap: The Revenge of Bill Gross

by skrenta at 1:46 AM

Bill Gross invented the ad model that is Google AdSense, which supports search and much of the rest of online media now. He was mocked for it at the time. Now he's back, unveiling his new search engine Snap at the Web 2.0 conference in a jaw-droppingly cool 15 minute whirlwind demo.

I remember Snap when CNET owned it and they had to change their red exclamation point to a darker period because Yahoo complained. Somehow Bill Gross has gotten ahold of the domain. He always manages to get the best domains.

Snap has taken a terabyte of user session data secretly recorded from ISP backbones and used the post-search user behavioral info to rank site experience in multiple vectors.

Snap looks like it returns an Excel spreadsheet for your results. You can click on the columns to re-rank based on various dimensions, which may be search term dependent. If you search on something Snap knows about, like a product category, it will give you two spreadsheets, the first being a slick DHTML spreadsheet of price/features info.

My high-level on this is that he's inserted a price comparison shopping layer above product searches (the most valuable category of searches that users enter), and has implemented something akin to Andrew Goodman's idea to let users individually optimize search results themselves. And thereby have the engine learn from their input, and overall be far more spam resistant.

He's also smartly differentiating Snap from Google with total transparency. You can see all the stats on the site: how many searches they get, how much money they make, what people searched on, what advertisers are paying, and more.

Up until two months ago, search was "done" (again) and meant a text-entry box and two buttons on a white page. Then we got MyJeeves, A9, and My Yahoo Personal Search. These are the opposite of spartan interfaces, instead opting for filing-cabinet features to appeal to power users. And now Snap raises the bar even further.

Is the search market segmenting? Via Battelle, we know that search power users account for most searches. Maybe Google is the AOL of search, limited to trying to be all things to all people with a two-word entry format, but the high-end users (the ones who buy lots of expensive stuff online) will graduate to more sophisticated interfaces.