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Groxis and Yahoo! Team Up to Grok the Web
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Posted On May 16, 2005
Groxis, Inc. has teamed up with Yahoo! to offer a free, Web-based ad-supported version of Grokker. It's a major milestone for Groxis, a small, privately held San Francisco-based company that pioneered visualization software. Grokker is a metasearch application that shows contextually organized results in easy-to-navigate maps. The deal with Yahoo! for Web search also provides contextual sponsored advertising in a pane to the right of the results map. For several years, Grokker has been available as a downloadable software application that searches a range of diverse sources. With the launch of Grokker.com, the first consumer-oriented, browser-based Web version, Groxis hopes to increase the awareness of visual search tools, build brand recognition, and test the use of highly targeted advertising directly correlated to topics within Grokker maps. The deal with Yahoo! is not an exclusive.

"Visual search has been on the horizon for quite some time," said R. J. Pittman, CEO and founder of Groxis. "The great thing about Grokker.com is that now the public can experience and understand the advantages of visual search without [having] to buy or download anything. Grokker.com eliminates the friction so anyone can try this new technology. The new site will raise the awareness of visual search in the marketplace as we roll out a new suite of products in the next year."

Grokker 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.

Grokker's one-click GrokMail feature allows users to save and share results maps with anyone. The maps can then be edited and customized by any user in the e-mail chain.

Groxis released the first version of its visualization software in late 2002. The company then used feedback from several thousand customers and industry experts to develop Grokker 2, released in December 2003, which Pittman said was really the company's first product. The company then developed specialized versions of Grokker for education and the enterprise by the end of 2004.

At this point, the Grokker.com implementation with Yahoo! only searches the core Yahoo! Web index, not other Yahoo! specialty searches, such as news or images. It is, in fact, labeled a "demo." However, according to information on the Groxis site: "Today you can grok the Web. Soon you will be able to grok the news, music files, stock quotes, images, horoscopes, e-mails … anything."

Pittman confirmed that the company would work with Yahoo! in phases and move into new channels. Groxis is interested in working with other search engines as well. Pittman particularly likes what Google is doing in the education/research space. He said the company would be adding at least 10 new data sources to its client software and then to the Web version.

Tech journalist Staci Kramer commented on paidContent.org: "I have to admit Grokker is one of those tools that not only sounds cool, it delivers. It can be confusing, though, and it's probably not the best way to search in a hurry especially since jumping from search circle to search circle can be addictive."

There is definitely a learning curve to using a technology like Grokker. While a picture might be better than a lot of text, it still can take some work to put the maps to best use. John Markoff, recently noted in The New York Times that "The company faces an uphill challenge in persuading people to use its maps, however, according to researchers, market analysts, and competitors."

On the other hand, it seems to have great appeal in the educational community, both K-12 and higher ed. It has been particularly well-received at Stanford University, which was one of Groxis' first customers. The university worked closely with the company on the development of Grokker E.D.U., its "search-and-research" platform for the education market that was formally introduced in December 2004. The platform provides an optimized-for-education version of Grokker. (See the NewsBreak on Grokker E.D.U. at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16306.)

"More than 3,000 Stanford faculty and students have used Grokker over the past nine months, and it has gotten rave reviews," said Michael Keller, university librarian and director of academic information resources. "And it's a significant advance over the conventional, text-based lists of hits. Navigating the visual clusters in Grokker maps is simple and intuitive, enabling users to quickly separate the wheat from the chaff, and find what matters to them."

Groxis will continue to sell the myGrokker software for $49, but the company says its new Web product is perfect for people who don't want to download and launch a client application. Users of the Web version see contextual ads provided by Yahoo! Search Marketing Solutions (formerly Overture), while users of the software have no ads. Since the Web ads are contextually targeted, however, the company hopes that users find them to be useful rather than bothersome. Pittman said that the capabilities of the desktop software will gradually be included in the Web version, including searching multiple search engines and other resources.

At this point, Grokker.com searches only Yahoo!. The MyGrokker client application lets users search all of the following: Yahoo!, MSN, Teoma, AltaVista, FAST, WiseNut, Google, Amazon, and their own hard drives, plus customized integration of virtually any data source. MyGrokker provides an integrated browser for viewing documents, deduplication from multiple sources, and filters that adapt to the data source to permit data mining. Groxis supplies plug-ins for the particular information sources to be searched.

The MyGrokker software also offers the following additional capabilities:

  • Returns up to 2,000 results in a single map (versus 160 on Grokker.com)
  • Provides a customized set of filters for each information source
  • Exports to these files formats: MLA Bibliography, EndNote, HTML, Refworks
  • Offers expanded editing capabilities, including adding and marking links
  • Provides advanced search capabilities, plus customized options for each information source (no advanced searching on Grokker.com)

While Groxis hopes its maps provide users with a better way to find useful resources among masses of search results, other companies are exploring other solutions to the frequently overwhelming ranked lists of results provided by most of the major search engines. Vivísimo, for example, organizes search results into groups of folders, using categorization and clustering technologies. It recently launched Clusty.com, a free consumer metasearch engine. Northern Light, which currently offers a subscription-based business research engine, has been known for years for using search results folders. And, there have been reports of Google researchers working on clustering technologies.

Ultimately, it's all about improving the user's experience and making search more relevant. But, Groxis also emphasizes the power of Grokker to let users explore content both broadly and deeply to truly understand it—thus, its special appeal in the educational sector. The Groxis motto is: "Explore. Discover. Understand."


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.


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