Heystaks is one of 53 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2011 event taking place this week. After our selection, the companies pay a fee to present, but our coverage of them remains objective.

Needle in a hackstackWe all spend a lot of time on web search. While every other online activity seems to have gone social, searching remains solitary, but maybe not for long. Google has said it will be adding a “social layer” to its products to combat the rise of Facebook, and several startups are tackling the problem, too. HeyStaks, which launches publicly at DEMO (previously in closed beta), is one of them.

HeyStaks wants to make search more efficient by pooling search results from your community. According to search engine marketing firm iProspect, a typical knowledge worker spends 16 hours a month searching for information and 50 percent of all those searches fail. HeyStaks’ founders claim that 1 in 4 of those searches are repeats of your own past queries and 2 out of 3 of searches have already been executed by someone else in your social network.

HeyStaks is built on the notion of a Stak, which synthesizes the best shared search results of a group of users on a particular subject. Each user has a default Stak of their own searches and can start or join other Staks. A Stak might cover startup advice or travel in San Francisco, for example. As a user, you choose your preferred Staks and who you want to collaborate with to get better search results. You might have one friend who has great insight into the design scene but knows nothing about high-tech startups, for example.

HeyStaks provides browser plugins for Firefox and Chrome as well as a mobile application. Once you have installed the plugin, relevant HeyStaks community search results start appearing in your Google, Yahoo and Bing search results.

Heystaks search resultsThe results to the left are from a search for “hard rock reviews”. The searcher is a mountain biker who is looking for reviews of Hard Rock mountain biking gear. Google thinks that the user is looking for the Hard Rock hotel or hard rock music, so its default results are not relevant. Since this user is a member of a mountain biking Stak, HeyStaks anticipates that the user is more likely to be looking for mountain biking results and makes suggestions accordingly.

HeyStaks is based on technology developed by a group of researchers in search, data mining and personalization. The company’s CTO is Barry Smyth, a prominent expert in personalization whose previous startup, ChangingWorlds, was sold to Amdocs for $60 million.  HeyStaks CEO, Jonathon Dillon, was previously a VP at Yahoo.

The HeyStaks social ranking and relevance engine takes 10 different types of user behavior into consideration. These include behaviors like how often a user selects a page and whether they tag it, share it or post it on their social networks. Results to date suggest that HeyStaks recommendations can be up to 50 percent more relevant that the vanilla search engine results.

Heystaks’ main competitors may be  the search engines themselves, but the founders claim that many of the HeyStaks community-preferred results would never appear on the main search engine result page, because they are a blend of head and tail content, based on community votes, and therefore are not manipulable by content farms or SEO experts.

Anything that improves search results is relevant to advertisers. HeyStaks’ business model will extend the social relevance algorithm to community ranking and filtering ads. However, the ad features will not be launched until later this year.

HeyStaks was founded in 2008, has 12 employees and is based in Dublin and San Francisco. The company has seed funding of $1.4 million from NCB Ventures.

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