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Nov 15, 2006

December 2006 Issue

Exalead SA

Founded in 2000, Exalead is all about optimizing access to the masses of information people are confronted with on a daily basis. As François Bourdoncle, president and CEO of Exalead, explained, "We live in an important time where the focus is moving from general computer science to information access. We see search engines as the key to access." The search industry must constantly adapt its approaches to help users navigate the ever-expanding information maze.

Exalead offers solutions to both the general public and businesses, and Bourdoncle sees the market as evenly split between the two. The company's overall goal is to make accessing pertinent information easier. With its business solutions, Exalead is shifting the focus from application-centered computing to search-centered computing by combining elements of knowledge management, content management, and databases. What really sets Exalead apart, for Bourdoncle, is its wide range of products. "We offer everything from simple plug-and-play solutions to high-end, customizable products," he says.

The Exalead web-based search engine takes an original approach. Instead of offering exhaustive lists of responses to a given query, it organizes information thematically. Bourdoncle describes the search engine as being like a remote control for the internet. Exalead recently launched a beta version of its search engine with a brand new "ergonomic" design. The company used focus groups and user feedback to revamp the interface. This new and improved Exalead engine offers a list of responses to a query with thumbnail screenshots on the left. On the right, the search engine also generates an expandable list of themes, as well as content-rich and language options to allow users to refine their searches with ease.

Soon, Exalead will introduce a new logo, "Exa," a little figure designed to serve as your search guide. Bourdoncle concedes that Exalead's search engine approach may not be familiar to some users, but he sees this as an opportunity to show information seekers a promising new path.

—Heidi Gautschi

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Factiva provides powerful tools for searching and monitoring global news and business information, enabling professionals to make better decisions faster. Factiva products provide rich content collection and access to more than 10,000 sources such as influential newspapers, academic and trade journals, magazines, news and radio network transcripts, websites, and images from 152 countries in 22 languages, including more than 120 regularly updated newswires.

Founded in 1999 as a joint venture of Reuters and Dow Jones, which took sole ownership in October, Factiva is a web-based information service that has developed software and applications with clients such as Microsoft, Oracle, Google, Yahoo!, and IBM. It has also partnered with EuroSpider, Comintell, Peoplesoft, MediaMap, Biz360, ChoicePoint, BT Radianz, AtHoc, and Reuters.

In the words of Claude Green, Factiva's interim CEO, "It takes a tech-savvy company that also understands the importance of presenting business news and facts in context to be able to successfully turn data into decision-ready information." Well, it takes one to help others.

"Today, smart organizations save time and money by placing critical news and information directly into applications that employees use everyday. Information professionals who create corporate intranets and portals, as well as the CIOs and technology professionals who manage infrastructure recognize that electronic content must be efficiently inserted into the existing organizational infrastructure to be effective," says Factiva VP Dennis Cahill.

Green points out that, "Today, businesspeople are spending more time searching—a disturbing trend! Yet, there's no reason why technology can't help to make the whole searching experience more efficient." Offering its own solution this year, the company introduced Factiva Search 2.0, powered by Factiva Discovery Technologies, a suite that supports text mining technologies, advanced content visualizations, and taxonomy.

The company also offers a number of enterprise integration options, including fully comprehensive web services API, the Factiva Developers Kit, which allows organizations to insert Factiva content and services within enterprise workflow applications.

Factiva continues to work with companies to increase customer options for accessing Factiva content. Partnerships with Microsoft and Google have embedded Factiva content into the work processes of business people globally. "At Factiva," says Green "we are constantly investigating the rise of new technologies and the expanding definitions of business-relevant content, in an effort to predict what's next, what might be Web 3.0, which we believe is going to be about efficiency of search."

—Bela Nizami

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Fast Search & Transfer (FAST)

Enterprise search has come a long way from its roots in simple search technology, and FAST has been at the forefront of that evolution. By continually pushing the boundaries of technical innovation and designing customer-centric vertical market solutions, FAST stands out in the crowded enterprise search market.

This is a good time to be in enterprise search, the business of providing tools for corporations not only to search for disparate data in multiple locations, but also to classify, categorize, and present results in an actionable format. As the volume of data residing in companies continues to explode, data is also being dispersed from traditional central repositories to desktops, hand-held devices, and laptops. According to IDC analyst Sue Feldman, "Sales of enterprise search software licenses and maintenance is expected to grow from $942 million in 2005 to $2.5 billion in 2010."

FAST was founded in Oslo, Norway in 1997 by Hans Gude Gudeson, Espen Brodin, and John Lervik, who recognized the growing importance of search technology as the volume of content on the web exploded. Since selling off its web search platform to Overture in 2003 for $70 million, the company's sole focus has been enterprise search, and it now serves 3,600 customers on six continents. FAST's 2006 revenues are projected at $150 million, up from $103 million a year earlier. The company has no debt and, according to Feldman, leads the market in revenue growth.

FAST's enterprise data search technology combines three key factors: a proprietary compressed search algorithm, allowing high performance with relatively low data costs; linear scalability, to ensure that search performance will be maintained even as corporate data assets grow; and an integrated real-time filter to ensure fast content delivery.

FAST has an "extended platform" philosophy; it understands that mission critical data can now be found on platforms from desktop to laptop to PDA. In addition to its flagship product, FAST Enterprise Search Program, the company offers FAST Personal Search Platform for desktop searching and FAST Search for mobile devices. FAST InStream is designed specifically for application within an OEM environment. Launched in 2004, InStream's customer base of over 40 OEMs includes Symantec and Documentum.

Despite its success, FAST doesn't rest on its technical laurels. "We believe we have the best enterprise search product in the world, but we are not good enough," says Ali Riaz, president of FAST. The company regularly reinvests 25% of its income into R&D projects, and one in three of FAST's 680 employees is an engineer. Technical priorities in the coming year include upgrading search technology to better handle files beyond text, like voice, video, and images.

Alongside its technology, Riaz sees FAST's strong commitment to customer satisfaction as a critical component to the company's success. "Providing the technology is really only half the answer. It is the service around the technology that helps us build customer loyalty." An independent evaluation of FAST's support organization conducted earlier this year found that customers gave FAST a 99% satisfaction rating. And FAST says they have never failed to renew a customer contract.

FAST's goal is to become a strategic partner to its customers, rather than simply a software provider. Riaz says, "We ‘incentivize' our entire organization when our technology goes live for a customer, not just when the contract is signed." This gives everyone from sales to engineering a reason to understand the customer's needs and streamline implementation. Their familiarity with vertical market requirements has allowed the company to expand from its original base of ecommerce clients to add publishing, media, pharmaceutical, and financial services companies to its customer list. The manufacturing market is one that Riaz sees as a growth opportunity for FAST in the coming year.

As for the enterprise search industry as a whole in 2007, Riaz says, "The biggest challenge is that everyone seems to want to have a play in it," referring to the number of companies now touting enterprise search capabilities. But he questions whether these new entrants know what they are getting into. "Enterprise search is serious, and it's very hard to do well." With a solid track record of financial success and a commitment to customer needs, FAST can afford to invest in both technology and infrastructure to continue to outpace the competition.

—Nancy Davis Kho

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Websites have been firing up RSS feeds with the help of FeedBurner's syndication systems since 2004, but even CEO and cofounder Dick Costolo couldn't foresee just how willing online businesses were in 2006 to incorporate his company's easy-to-use feeds. "It has surprised us how quickly publishers have embraced feeds…they are aggressively taking advantage of this new medium," says Costolo. This year, the company became the go-to guys for some of the nation's biggest commercial news services, like Reuters, Newsweek, and USA Today; for digital publishers of all stripes; and for thousands of independent bloggers and podcasters—245,000 total publishers, serving 22 million subscriptions worldwide.

FeedBurner calls its feeds "burned," which means more than just going live. Perks of burned feeds include easy set-up and management, and tracking features that allow users to view and monitor subscribers. Recently launched features reflect the growing functionality that subscribers and publishers expect from their content. While anyone can tap into the company's free software, paid subscribers saw a number of new features in 2006—feed-driven dynamic site ads, FeedFlare (which allows subscribers to tag, manage, and email content from within publishers' feeds), and an advertising network for customers' mutual benefit.

But according to Costolo, it's not some sort of feed technology revolution that's to thank for rising RSS popularity. He says, "What has happened is that we are seeing more and more companies providing mechanisms that make it easier to subscribe to feeds without having to worry about the technologies or protocols underneath the proverbial covers." In other words: What you don't see with a FeedBurner feed is almost as important as what you do see. The staff, besides being in touch with their inner children (they love playing with toys and the office has an impressive sticker collection), are also in touch with the kind of seamless integration that mainstream users demand from web applications. "We simply adore our customers," enthuses Costolo.

In July, FeedBurner announced that it had acquired Blogbeat, a company that does for blogs what FeedBurner's statistical and analytical technology does for feeds. While the Blogbeat integration is just getting underway, expect to see FeedBurner's services lighting up even more digital content all over the internet.

—Jessica Dye

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Groxis, Inc.

At a time when enterprise users need search tools that extract the most meaningful results across an ever-growing collection of internal and external sources, Groxis goes beyond basic results lists by returning not only what users have come to expect from searches, but also a visual map that illustrates connections between different types of information.

"Part of the problem with conventional search tools is that you generate a static list of results," explains Brian Chadbourne, CEO of Groxis. The innovative mapping feature in Groxis' Grokker EMS product gives users a way to visualize the results, providing a way to see relationship among different information types that just isn't possible with traditional search tools.

Chadbourne sees this as a key differentiator for his company. He says, "Grokker's concise visual presentation enables knowledge workers to discover connections among data sources, explore previously underutilized resources, easily share results with others for collaborative learning, and come to a deeper understanding of the research topic, leading to more actionable results."

When a user enters a search query in Grokker, he is presented with a list of results in outline view organized by subject in one tab and a visualization map in another. The map is organized by outline topic, allowing him to see the documents in each outline category in one high-level view.

Groxis opened its doors in 2001 with the goal of developing visual web-based search tools for the enterprise. The company wants to do more then merely help users find facts. They work towards "facilitating access to essential enterprise knowledge sources and enabling researchers to leverage key digital content for deeper discovery," according to Chadbourne.

It's been a busy year for Groxis. The company secured $4 million in Series B financing, began offering hosted and deployed version of Grokker EMS, and announced it had opened up its connector development program by providing a way for clients to write custom connectors based on the OpenSearch standard. What's more, enterprise search powerhouse Fast Search and Transfer (FAST) integrated Groxis's visual search tools into FAST's enterprise search solution.

As Chadbourne says, "Despite its marketplace ubiquity, the 'search' function is still in a primitive development phase. To answer unmet market, needs constant innovation will be vital to this industry's future." As such, it is going to require more creative approaches like visualization to help workers see the entire knowledge forest, not jus the information trees.

—Ron Miller

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