Canadian search engine finds unlikely success

Internet surfers as far away as Bangkok have turned up on a small Canadian search engine that does almost nothing to market itself and generates no revenues for the company which owns it., launched almost

a year ago by an Ottawa-based company of the same name, draws from only about 5,000 Web sites, but its results are being praised by some of the most well-known names in the search business. These include Research Buzz, and SearchEngineWatch, which last year named the firm as the first-runner up to Yahoo! in its annual awards program.

Not bad for a product RocketInfo never intended to create. Though it was recently named Internet site of the Week by the Bangkok Post, the search engine (formerly called RocketNews) simply evolved from customer misunderstandings. RocketInfo specializes in creating “”competitive intelligence”” solutions for companies like Sun Microsystems and the Bank of Montreal. For financial services clients, for example, RocketInfo creates a Web-based tool to collect regulatory information, news about the client and its subsidiaries for employees. This can be customized and changed by the clients themselves.

According to Martin Thornell, the firm’s vice-president of research, the search engine was created because customers kept assuming that’s what RocketInfo did. “”We finally gave in,”” he says. “”It’s a lot easier to get publicity for a search engine than it is for a company selling corporate competitive intelligence solutions. It demonstrates to people that we know what we’re doing when it comes to search.””

Earlier this year, San Diego, Calif-based e-business firm WebSideStory Inc. released a report which said the majority of Internet surfers worldwide are using direct navigation and bookmarks to locate Web sites, rather than relying on search engines and Internet links. According to WebSideStory vice-president Geoffrey Johnson, that’s not necessarily bad news for firms like RocketInfo.

“”People are doing less meandering on the Web. They’re just not clicking on everything that they see,”” he says. “”It’s good for search engines. They’re not going to wander around the Web like a giant flea market; they’re going to need a card catalogue, so to speak.””

Though RocketInfo is using its search engine primarily as a way of showcasing its talents to potential clients, Thornell said the 10-person firm has held off on duking it out with the likes of Google and Alta Vista so far.

“”That’s a tough business these days,”” he said. “”The model that some of the other search engines (use) — like paid listings, like the Overture model, or even some of the things that Google does with text space ads — we do worry that that might send the wrong message to potential corporate customers.””

Johnston says it may not be the best time for new entrants. “”It’s just such a flooded market,”” he said. “”I don’t know how they would possibly hope to survive when Alta Vista is barely hanging on.””

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