Dorthy spending $4 M on "broken" search for dreams

Let’s face it, hunting through Google can be frustrating, especially when searching for advice, so Dorthy.com is working on a remedy.

The project of New York-based startup Saber Seven has raised $4 million to date, and is pushing to release the public alpha of its “dream achievement service” by the end of the summer.

Here’s founder Jordan English Gross’ favorite example of how Dorthy works: Say you want to run a marathon in Maui. Using a search engine, you’d get a list of Web sites, including the marathon’s official site, unofficial sites and a few disparate sources for travel information. You’d then have to hunt through those individual pages for the information you’re looking for. Dorthy works more like Wolfram Alpha, pulling relevant data into a single page of information.

More importantly, Dorthy saves that search and evolves it over time based on how the user progresses from there, determining what the person is ultimately interested in. The results blend social features as well, looking at what other people are doing with similar topics and providing even more information. So, in the case of the marathon runner, the user would learn what hotels are popular and how other people are training for the race.

dorthy

The underpinnings for this idea come from research by MIT (PDF), which found that 40 percent of Yahoo search queries are repeats of older queries, meant to re-find past results. Gross believes this behavior will lead people back to Dorthy to gather more information over time.

Dorthy will be funded in part by advertisements, which Gross says will differ from the usual display ads seen in search results. Instead, they’ll come to users as branded information, blended with the other data (though Gross says users will be able to tell what content is ad-supported). Also, the site wants to sell the connection between people’s aspirations and content consumed as market research to brands.

Gross doesn’t see any direct competitors to Dorthy, as the concept pulls in the personal nature of Google Notebook, the semantic reasoning of AskJeeves (now Ask.com), the collaborative and achievement-based nature of BaseCamp and the filtering effects of RSS. In a situation like this, I think Dorothy’s worst enemy will be plain old search engines. Even through the company’s chief technical officer, Jim Anderson, derides search as “broken,” they’re still the go-to source of information. We’ll see how compelling an alternative Dorthy is when the public alpha launches.

Saber Seven has almost 20 full-time employees, and plans to hire more this year. The company is close to closing its B round of funding. Gross said he’s open to rolling Dorthy into another service, or in having other services rolled into Dorthy.


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