Vtap, easy mobile search

vtap-logo.bmpUpdated

Vtap is a new mobile phone service that lets you search for Web videos and other useful Internet content with impressive speed.

The company will launch Sept. 10, but VentureBeat got an early look.

Most Web search technologies are excruciatingly slow, relying on plodding cellular networks or slightly better networks such as Edge. Many people have given up looking for good Web content on the go. But Vtap, run by two mobile software experts, provides a mobile phone download that searches a major index of video-related sites, and produces it a blazing speed. It it also lets you search for Wikipedia for quick answers.

It is fast because it uses predictive technology. Say you want to get a fix on old Gwyneth Paltrow movie in which she starred with Michael Douglas. You type in “Gwy”, and Vtap is already step ahead of you, offering a listing of Gwyneth Paltrow related content as its top result. Then, if you type in “Mic dou..”, even getting the spelling of his first name wrong, Vtap still divines you’re interested the movie in which they co-star: “A Perfect Murder.” Its index contains a copy of the movie. You can click on it to play.

murali.bmpThis may not sound like much at first, but we played around with it a bit, after getting a demo from the company’s chief executive, Murali Aravamudan (left) — and it is handy. He says the trick to making it so quick is in indexing content by individual letters/characters, instead of words, like most search engines do.

Its ranking system helps. Instead of “page rank” to order results, as many search engines do, Vtap has used what can be called the “social graph” approach: Mining what people have selected as their favorite channels on sites like YouTube and elsewhere.

Its Wikipedia search finds answers instantly too. If you’re interested in Palo Alto, Calif.’s population, you type in “Palo Alto popul..” and it has already provided you the answer. If you type in “incipient,” it provides you a definition, and also a voice recording on how to pronounce it.

The trick will whether this company can rise above the noise. There are many mobile search engines on the market these days, offering everything from SMS-based search (4Info) to video search (MyWaves), all of them making their own rapid improvements. While Vtap is useful, the question is whether it will get traction before faster mobile technologies such as 3G and WiMax arrive and make regular Web search much easier. There are enough young people with mobile phones searching for video that it has a good shot.

The Vtap service is a product of Veveo, an Andover, Mass. company that has been working on the problem for two and a half years. It has raised $28 million, including $14 million of that in May, which until now has been undisclosed. The funding comes from Norwest Venture Partners, Matrix and North Bridge Venture Partners.

It launches Sept 10 with support for Windows Mobile, along with an Ajax application for the iPhone. A few weeks later, it will offer support for J2ME.

It is busy signing deals with mobile phone manufacturers and carriers, giving them a revenue share in any advertising or subscription fees it makes in the future. It has also quietly licensed the technology to a major (undisclosed) U.S. carrier, which recently started delivering the search technology for its Internet TV offerings. [Update: Aravamudan was mum, but we’ve done more digging, and have learned the undisclosed carrier is Verizon. Veveo’s technology is being used for Verizon’s fiber-to-the-home Internet television product, powering TV Guide. It replaced Microsoft’s technology.]

Aravamudan was originally a researcher at Bell Labs, and helped build the first VoIP softswitch, which was deployed at Level3 and other companies. During the last boom, his first company, Winphoria, built a push-to-talk technology that competed with Nextel’s. It was adopted by Sprint and Verizon. The company raised $52 million, and was sold to Motorola for $190 million in 2003.

His co-founder at Veveo, Ajit Rajasekharan, also an engineer, was a top engineer at Audible, an early Internet audio delivery company. He also founded a little-known company called Readia, backed by Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr. Focused on education for young children, that company didn’t really go anywhere.