One of the latest attempts to break into the search market is Worio, a Vancouver, B.C. startup that uses tagging to augment results from Google and other big engines. The company went into beta last July, and today is announcing that it has indexed 100 million pages.

New search companies usually fall in one of two categories. First are blockbuster attempts to “beat” Google with a better technology. The last of these to try its luck was Cuil, which inspired more scorn than anything else. Worio falls in the second group of companies, who hope that changing consumer preferences will someday lead people to use Google and another technology. “What we’re trying to do is change people’s mind about what they expect when they go looking for information,” Ali Davar, Worio’s chief executive, told me.

So what should people expect? According to Davar, accurate results are not the be all end all. Google has done a good job of trying to give you an exact answer. Worio is into discovery, which means providing inexact but creative answers to people who aren’t sure exactly what they’re looking for in the first place.

Worio does this by identifying common keywords in results, turning them into tags and grouping them. When you use its search, the bulk of the page shows Google results, but the right hand side is reserved for three boxes containing themed sub-searches Worio has performed with tag groups.

Sometimes the results in these boxes can be quite good, like the one pictured below. (That’s not the actual appearance, by the way; I modified the screenshot to make it easier to see.) Google doesn’t return similar results — and for someone looking for information about search, Worio’s results could be better than Google’s. If they also have friends signed up to use Worio, the company will also include social recommendations, which could be helpful.

With other searches, the results Worio returns seem only tangentially related to the queries used, or not at all. Davar says he thinks users will be fine with seeing some results that aren’t a close match, adding, “We’re trying to deliver something that search doesn’t do at all.”

Unfortunately, a new user may not be willing to learn what that something is. The big challenge Worio faces is essentially the same as engines that want to compete directly with Google: Users have to be able to intuitively understand why they received their results.

There’s no rush for the company to impress. Unlike Cuil, Worio isn’t prematurely bragging about its victory over the world of search. And it will have an easy time differentiating its product; the results aren’t derivative, and they’re impossible to confuse with those of the standard search engines. For users with the visual bandwidth to take in more information on a single page than Google delivers, Worio could be a good interface.

But at the end of the day, Worio still has two mountains to climb: Creating a killer product and helping create a shift in search habits to incorporate discovery for, at the least, several million users.

Worio grew out of a University of British Columbia program, and has so far been funded by the Canadian National Research Council and Precarn. The company will start looking for about $10 million in venture capital this year.


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