Semantic search startup TextDigger unearths a business model, and some venture funding

TextDigger, a semantic search startup that launched early last year at DEMO, has been much quieter in the interim than other companies in the space like Hakia, Powerset and Radar Networks / Twine. But now the company has come back to light, at least for us — a filing document reveals that the company has finally landed venture funding, raising $3.8 million so far.

A year or two ago, it wasn’t uncommon to hear the term “Google killer” applied to companies like TextDigger. Expectations have since fallen somewhat, and most of the semantic startups have struck out in directions other than plain-vanilla web search.

TextDigger landed on media services — no surprise, given that it was founded by former CNET employees. The company tells me it’s making the most progress with automated tagging and keyword generation, which help websites become more structured and show up higher on search rankings. Another product, a related search technology that helps visitors navigate a site, has also gotten interest.

The products are completely developed, they say, and open to any publisher that wants to sign up. TextDigger makes money by charging for all three offerings, following a trial period; related search is charged per 1,000 queries, while auto-tagging and keyword generation are charged per query or tag. It will add self-serve tools this summer to help streamline and automate the process of signing up for the services.

It’s encouraging to see TextDigger making some progress, and figuring out how semantic tech can feed hungry (investor) mouths. But notably, it hasn’t entirely given up on the idea of web search. Although the search segment of their website is closed to the public, when I asked whether the company had given up, a company exec responded that working on search and navigation on other sites would ultimately improve their web search, writing, “If and when we launch a public Web search, at a later date, it will certainly be much better for having incorporated the fruits of our labors in these other service areas.”

By contrast, Hakia, which launched around the same time (our first coverage on the two was in the same article), has continued to make web search the core of its business, with new offerings like vertical search technology.

However, Hakia is also looking to other businesses for its revenue right now; earlier this year, it began licensing itself for enterprise search applications. And today, it’s announcing a new push to syndicate its engine onto other web sites, along with some bells and whistles like XML feeds. It’s offering up to 30,000 searches per day through a web site for free, before it begins charging.

It should be interesting to see how these two companies progress compared to each other, since they appeared at nearly the same time, with a similar pitch, but have since taken on very different strategies.

TextDigger’s $3.8 million round was led by True Ventures, with participation from the Exis Trust and CNET, which provided the San Jose, Calif. company’s $1.5 million seed round, and also uses the technology on its own website.


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