Surf Canyon launches browser add-on to refine your search results

Surf Canyon, which helps users improve and refine the results they get from search engines like Google, publicly launched its browser add-on today.

Once users install Surf Canyon, a bullseye icon appears next to every item you bring up in a Google, Yahoo or MSN search. If one of the search results seems particularly relevant to you, click on the bullseye and Surf Canyon will offer you three more recommendations based on what the add-on thinks you’re looking for.

This probably sounds awfully close to Google’s “similar pages” function, but Surf Canyon chief executive Mark Cramer says that what happens under the hood is substantially different. Like the rest of Google’s search engine, the similar pages option is based on links — if Site A links to Site B and you ask Google for similar pages to Site B, it shows you other pages that Site A linked to.

Surf Canyon, on the other hand, tries to figure out what you’re actually looking for, based both on the specific search result that you highlight and on your previous queries and selections during the same “information session.” (The company elaborates on the difference between the “similar pages” function and Surf Canyon’s recommendations here.)

For example, let’s say you want to learn about the leopard. Most of your search results will probably be related to the Apple operating system, which isn’t very useful if you’re trying to find out more about the animal. You could try to reword your query, but if you see a result that’s close to what you’re looking for, it’s easy to just click on the bullseye and see Surf Canyon’s other recommendations. (See screenshot below.)

surfleopard.jpg

We wrote about Surf Canyon back in September, but shortly afterwards the company decided to change its product from a standalone web site to an extension for Firefox and Internet Explorer. The new approach makes more sense, since it creates additional functionality within your normal search page. Once you’ve installed Surf Canyon, it takes just a click to get additional recommendations. The real question, as Cramer acknowledges, is whether people are willing to install another add-on.

Surf Canyon’s business model is based on providing sponsored links within its recommendations. The Oakland-based company has currently raised $250,000 in angel funding.