Search player LookSmart today announced that it has acquired Furl.net, a Web archiving service that allows users to save a permanent copy of any Web page to a personal Furl-hosted account, then search and share that data. Financial details of the transaction weren’t disclosed.
“The fundamental service is the ability to save what you find online and organize them in a modern way,” said Mike Giles, Furl’s founder and CEO, who will continue to head up Furl under LookSmart. “There’s been a great deal of attention paid to search, but very little on what to do with that information once you find it, or how to find it again when you need it.”
Furl also provides options to share and discover information via email subscriptions, RSS feeds, blog integration and personalized recommendations. According to Giles, there are no plans to change the service, other than to devote more resources to improving it.
The company plans to build on Furl’s features, starting with an announcement today that each individual member’s public archive has been allotted 5 gigabytes of storage. Other new features in the works include a groups feature, and the ability to search across all public archives, Giles said. Currently, a search is limited to a user’s own archive of web pages.
LookSmart plans to maintain Furl as a free service, generating revenue from relevant sponsored listings — currently supplied by Google AdWords –on search and content pages. The company plans to implement its own keyword-targeted advertising on Furl search result pages in the near future, while continuing to offer Google’s contextual ads on content pages.
One reason LookSmart was interested in Furl was for the data it collects from users’ saved pages. This information, looked at in aggregate, can be very useful to a search company to be able to present global search results accurately, or to target more relevant advertising, Giles said.
“It’s beyond just providing a useful application that helps people do a personalized search. Once you have the information about what people are saving, you can begin to do more interesting things with search,” he said.
Furl is similar in some ways to services like Amazon.com’s recently launched A9.com, and parts of the MyJeeves offering from Ask Jeeves. The biggest difference is that those services save only links to a page or save a history of things a user has searched for, while Furl saves a copy of the whole page.
Furl also has more sharing features than A9 or MyJeeves, and more discovery features than MyJeeves, but not necessarily A9, Giles said.
“Amazon knows how to do discovery, for sure. It’s in their interest to have an engine to help people find things and direct them to products they sell,” he said. “But it’s unclear to me that it would be in their interest to let people have a digital archive and save pages they find. To me, that’s the more useful functionality in Furl.”
Furl, like LookSmart’s NetNanny Web filtering service, fits LookSmart’s strategy of choosing strategic niche markets to drive search traffic for its advertisers’ listings. Since the company lost 70 percent of its revenue in one fell swoop with the loss of MSN last year, the company has shifted focus from trying to go head-to-head with the top search providers, and instead has turned its attention to specialized search offerings.
Furl.net was launched in January 2004, and now has about 15,000 registered members, acquired through word-of-mouth promotion. Since the very beginning, larger search companies have expressed interest in acquiring Furl, Giles said.
“We were in talks with one or another search company since February,” he said. “We negotiated with several large public search companies and ultimately chose LookSmart. I’ve always thought that Furl made the most sense as part of a larger search company.”