Thefind.com, another shopping search engine, aims for comprehensiveness

UpdatedThefind.com is the latest in a long list of search engine companies swinging for the fences.

The Mountain View start-up has just launched its new offering. It aims to be the most comprehensive shopping search engine on the Web. It has crawled more stores (500,000) and products (150 million) than any other search engine, it boasts. While that may be true, and while its model is simple and compelling, Thefind.com also faces some challenges.

The graphic below (source: thefind.com) shows how crowded the field is. Some, like Nextag, aren’t listed. Most incumbents emerged during the first Web boom: These, including Shopping.com, Yahoo Shopping, Shopzilla and Pricegrabber all try to improve on the general search offered by Google. By limiting their results to the shopping experience — products, and perhaps some research too — they seek to become the first place people come to look for things to buy.

shopping comparsion.bmp

Thefind.com is better, say its execs, because it crawls the entire Web, takes every product it can find and lists its price and other relevant information. The company does not force merchants to pay for listings. Rather, Thefind.com ranks its product listings objectively — with an algorithm based on logical factors like price and model popularity. If you search for “phone,” for example, it searches its database for the most popular phone by global sales, and puts that phone atop the results page — along with the store that stocked the most of those phone types.

What’s not to like about this? Most other search engines charge their merchants for listings, or at the minimum charge the merchant if a user clicks through on their listings. This seems almost backward, like in the old days of 2000 when search pioneer Overture charged companies for listings — opening the way for Google to take the high-road and list search results based on relevance.

It turns out, though, that web crawling has many challenges, because it will pick up all kinds of unreliable data. It will find products, but won’t be able to tell if the price associated with the products includes shipping fees. Sometimes, it will find old Web pages with obsolete data. Other times the crawler will mistake a shipping cost price for the product price, and so on. All of these problems forced Google’s Froogle and others to give up on crawling, and to rely on accepting feeds of listings from merchants. That’s also what Become.com settled for, according to chief executive Michael Yang.

On Thefind.com, if you search for “Elnett” hairspray on Thefind.com, or “vienna acoustics bach,” you will get more listings than you do on Become.com or other engines. But if you search for other things, there can be lots of bugs. For examples, say you search for “Canon SD450.” You’ll find TheFind has prices all over the map. It has some going for the going rate of $299, but also has listings for $210. If you click on the one for $109, you end up on a page with no such camera.

These are intractable problems, says Become.com’s Yang. However, for Thefind.com chief exec Siva Kumar and vice president of marketing, Larisa Hall, such things are short-term bugs related to its test launch, and can be ironed out later. We shall see.

There’s also a question of how thefind.com will make money. The company will turn more seriously to revenue building next year, its execs said, by listing ads beside results — like Google does.

Of the company’s 27 employees, 18 are developers, Kimar said.

Thefind.com is the latest incarnation of Fatlens, which focused on searching for event tickets (which we wrote about here). The company raised an $8 million first round of capital last year from Redpoint Ventures, Lightspeed and Cambrian.