A privately-held, Sausalito, Calif., startup company hopes to break new ground for online researchers with the launch of its latest visual search tool. Groxis, Inc. has introduced its desktop software product, Grokker 2, which provides new search capabilities, a simplified user interface, and a visual context for accessing search engines and content sources. Grokker 2 currently sells for a very affordable $49 price for PCs (with a 30-day free trial offer), and should be available for the Mac OS platform early in 2004.
Supporting the "picture is worth a thousand words" adage, most of us were very happy to move from a bare C> prompt to computer interfaces with icons and other graphical assistance. As the Web and our various content repositories have grown exponentially, overwhelmed and frustrated searchers have increasingly required better ways to sort and categorize search results. Several companies offer visualization technologies designed to provide needed breakthroughs for researchers (including Antarctica, Inxight, KartOO, and others), but none have so far made major inroads into mainstream search products. Groxis hopes to do just that by providing what it calls the new breed of "Graphical Information Interface." Groxis says, "A picture is worth 30 billion Web pages."
Groxis released the first version of its software in late 2002. The company then used feedback from several thousand customers and industry experts to develop Grokker 2, which CEO and co-founder R.J. Pittman says is really the company's first product. He noted that the company has already been particularly well received in the K-12 and higher education markets. "Research is an every day part of the program for almost everyone online today, and most true in academia. Grokker 2 readily meets this demand."
Grokker 2 organizes and provides a visual map of search results, making it easy to discover, explore, and organize the information. The maps use size, shape, color, and order to present information in a dynamic contextual setting; clicking on an item in the map presents additional information, which can be viewed in various layers of detail. The software provides an integrated browser for viewing documents, deduplication from multiple sources, and filters that adapt to the data source to permit data mining. Users can create personal categories on a map, save a map, and e-mail it to a colleague who can use the free Grokker reader to view it.
Grokker supplies plug-ins for the particular information sources to be searched. Currently, Grokker 2 has built-in plug-ins for searching the Web, searching for products through Amazon.com, and for mapping a hard drive, or any drive over a shared network. Grokker's Web search module now lets users search AltaVista, MSN, WiseNut, Fast, Yahoo, and Teoma, all at once. Soon, the company will add a plug-in to search Google, and it is developing a plug-in for searching eBay. Additional plug-ins will be available in early 2004. Soon, developers will be able to create their own custom plug-ins through its developer's API and SDK.
Groxis already has a number of key partnerships and projects in place. For example, it is working with Dynix, the library systems vendor, in a strategic partnership that will integrate Grokker into its Dynix Horizon Information Portal. Groxis says it is developing plug-ins for searching Library of Congress MARC records and Dewey classifications.
Staff from the Stanford University Libraries worked with Groxis over the last year and said they are very interested in working with the company on further refinements to Grokker. A library representative commented: "With distributed (aka broadcast) searching coming to market for libraries, there's an ever increasing need for tools that:
- help navigate very large, disparate search results
- give one access to the "outlying" hits in large sets
- have the potential to store and share pools of info
- could be the basis for self-renewing topical views of resources that come from anywhere on the Internet."
Pittman said the company has been working with Reed Elsevier units, LexisNexis and Ei's Engineering Village. "We had the projects on hold while putting Grokker 2 in place, but now we're back on track," he explained. "There's a huge opportunity there."
Pittman claims Grokker has gone up against the top content categorization engines and outperformed them. He said Grokker 2 can process 10,000+ documents in 1 to 2 seconds on a client PC; the other engines have much higher computing overhead. The Grokker algorithms are very well designed and compact, he explained. "Further," he noted, "our categories are better, and a product like Inxight costs $125,000, while ours is $49." Pittman also touted the advantages of the using Grokker 2 in a "serverless enterprise"óno servers to set up or maintain, not complicated to set up or use, and volume discounts are offered for corporate enterprises.
So, will it soon be trendy to "grok a subject," like we "google" something today? If Pittman's plans work out, Grokker's visual maps will become an integral part of making information research "easy, intuitive, and sensible."