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Alacra (Re)Packages the Value of Vertical Search
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Posted On July 1, 2007
Alacra (www.alacra.com) has been providing business and financial information and related solutions for 11 years. Alacra’s stated goal is "to aggregate, integrate, package, and deliver mission-critical information that meets the needs of business professionals around the world." The company says that its strength is in packaging the information in innovative and creative ways—other companies may offer the same content sets but Alacra says its packaging and access are unique and designed to best meet clients’ needs. Now the company is showing its savvy by using custom search technology from Google plus its own resurrected Portal B search engine to package and offer a new free vertical search offering called AlacraSearch.

Alacra started life as Data Downlink Corp. in 1996, founded by Steven Goldstein and Michael Angle, former executives of Knight-Ridder’s Business Information Services. In 1999, the company launched a search engine called Portal B with the goal of providing better Web search results for business-oriented searches without advertising. The business model was to charge enterprises for the search engine and to embed it in their intranets. According to CEO Goldstein, "The dot-com bust and the emergence of Google killed our business model, so we wound up integrating Portal B into Alacra at no charge." (The company changed its corporate name and brand identity to Alacra, Inc. in June 2001. Its services, including Portal B and its flagship database service, .xls, were integrated, refined, repackaged, and offered to users as Alacra.)

Now, Portal B has been resurrected in the form of eight Google Custom Search Engines (http://google.com/coop/cse). These are available free at AlacraSearch (www.alacra.com/alacrasearch) as well as within Alacra’s premium subscription product.

  • Business & Trade Publications
  • Law Firms
  • Commercial & Investment Banks
  • Consulting & Accounting Firms
  • Educational Institutions
  • Market Research Firms
  • Trade Associations
  • Venture Capital & Private Equity Firms

The custom search engines use Google’s free technology with Alacra’s well-researched site indexes. Each of the eight indexes offers a specific set of facets so that results can be filtered. For example, the Law Firm index can be filtered by geography, and the Business & Trade Publications index can be filtered by industry. The list of facets is at the top of the results list with a clear instruction to "Refine results for …" Each individual result is also clearly labeled with its facets so a user can click on it to refine the search.

From the results page, a user can quickly run the same search in another custom search category. For example, a search for "green electronics" in the Market Research Firms category will retrieve results from sites such as Forrester and Gartner. Running it in the Business & Trade Publications brings back results from CIO.com, vnunet.com, emeraldinsight.com, and more. Moving over to the Trade Associations category helps users identify groups such as the Green Electronics Council and myGreenElectronics. One thing I’d like to see is the ability to specify current news or sort by date.

AlacraSearch is supported by ads—supplied by Google, of course. The ads at this point seem to be limited to a single item in a box near the top of the page. While the free AlacraSearch is a nice bonus for business researchers, the availability of the vertical search engine within the enterprise product will likely prove to be very attractive and useful for customers, as it leverages the advantages of being within the premium product and part of the users’ workflow.

Goldstein said that Portal B had some 40,000 hand-picked sites, but they removed about 15,000 company sites and some reference sites because Google can handle those easily with its indexing. Now, he estimated that there are about 12,000 Alacra-chosen sites within the 8 indexes—and these are monitored and updated. Though AlacraSearch has only been available for a few days, it is already seeing good traffic. He said the next vertical engine the company plans to offer will be Think Tanks—think Brookings, Cato, etc. The company is eager to hear feedback and is open to suggestions.

Alacra has turned to Google technology before. Last year, the company said it used Google Search Appliances (www.google.com/enterprise/gsa) as the technology behind the Alacra Compliance Web—packaged with Alacra’s domain expertise in selecting appropriate sites. The vertical search engine is part of the Alacra Compliance enterprise product, which helps banks and broker/dealers employ a consistent, comprehensive, and documented process for customer identification programs (CIP), know-your-customer (KYC) efforts, and enhanced due diligence (EDD) to meet PATRIOT Act, BSA, and FSA regulatory requirements. It can help answer questions like, "Is Segoes Securities allowed to conduct business in the Cayman Islands?" You can try it out at the demo site (www.alacra.com/compliance-search).


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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