Surf Canyon is a startup that helps users drill in on the search results that best match what they’re looking for. It started out as a destination website, then morphed into a browser plug-in, so users could download it and customize their search results while using the engine of their choice. Now, with the release of version 3.0, the Oakland, Calif., company is launching a search website again.
Is Surf Canyon just confused? Not exactly. Chief executive Mark Cramer says there are a number of reasons to resurrect the website now. For one thing, the company can generate revenue from site advertising. And if Surf Canyon wants to license the technology to another company, the website shows that Surf Canyon can be implemented server-side, rather than requiring users to install it. Plus, Cramer says the search tool can be better-refined and optimized through the site.
“The plug-in, however, is still definitely the core strategy for distributing our technology,” he adds.
The interface is similar whether you’re using Surf Canyon on the site or as a browser plug-in. You type in your search, then Surf Canyon gives you search results from another engine (it supports Google, Yahoo, and Bing, though presumably that will change once Yahoo lets Microsoft take over its search technology). Then, when you see a result that is best-suited to your needs (say, if you’re looking for “snow leopard” the animal rather than the Apple operating system), you can click on the bull’s-eye next to the result, and Surf Canyon gives you similar results. Those suggestions are based on both the result you clicked on and on your behavior during the current search session, which makes it very different from Google’s Similar Pages function, which is based on links — it comes closer to giving you search results that you’re really looking for, rather than forcing you to enter multiple queries as you refine your search.
If Surf Canyon is able to support both the site and the plug-in, this strategy makes sense. On the one hand, the Surf Canyon plug-in makes the feature “portable” and integrates it with your normal search experience. On the other hand, some users might not want to download another plug-in. So people can use Surf Canyon however they prefer. Version 3.0 also lets you perform Surf Canyon searches within your browser search bar, rather than having to access the website of another search engine. (See the screenshot, annotated by the company, above.)
Surf Canyon has raised a $850,000 in funding. Cramer says the plug-in has been downloaded more than 1 million times and estimates that it’s used by hundreds of thousands of people in a given week.