ShopWiki Aims to Redefine Shopping Search

Two former DoubleClick execs have turned their attention to the comparison shopping space, hoping to build a more complete and user-friendly search engine.

“When comparison shopping sites were built five years ago, they were built from the merchant’s perspective. We’re building ShopWiki from the consumer’s point of view,” Kevin Ryan, ShopWiki’s founder and CEO, told ClickZ News.

One of the biggest differences between ShopWiki and many other providers is that ShopWiki will not take feeds from merchants, or charge for placement. Instead, the company crawls more than 120,000 U.S. merchant sites, not counting affiliates, to dig up a broader set of results, according to Ryan.

That may not please some merchants, who will lose the control over pricing and product descriptions they have when they submit a feed to a search engine. But even feeds cannot be changed instantly, and print ads in newspapers are subject to vagaries of price changes and limited in-store stock, Ryan said., which launched in April 2005, takes a similar approach, opting to crawl for results rather than use merchant-submitted feeds.

ShopWiki, like, will be ad-supported. It will keep the “organic” results ad-free, in a manner similar to major search engines, but will display paid text links alongside the results. ShopWiki is currently testing out Google AdWords, but will consider ads from other providers as the site grows, Ryan said. In all cases, the advertising will remain clearly marked and will not affect the integrity of the natural search results, he said.

“Five years ago, you had to charge merchants for their listings. Now the keyword ads are enough,” Ryan said. “Imagine if Google only listed sites that paid them? That’s exactly what’s happening with comparison shopping sites today.”

While other sites, like classifieds aggregators Oodle and Vast, have run into trouble with listings owners over scraping tactics, Ryan contends those issues are not applicable here, since ShopWiki is sending buyers to the merchant’s sites, so they are benefiting.

ShopWiki hopes to differentiate itself on the quality of its search and the completeness of its product information. The company has developed natural language search capabilities that are able to process complex queries with price ranges and product features. For example, a search for “LCD monitor > 15” < $300" returns 1344 results for LCD monitors in that size and price range.

For product information, the site solicits users to collaboratively create buying guides, Wikipedia-style. More than 1,000 buying guides have been created since the site launched in beta in the fall, and Ryan expects to reach 10,000 guides in a short amount of time.

The comparison shopping space is crowded with heavyweights like E.W. Scripps’ Shopzilla, eBay’s, NexTag and PriceGrabber. Yahoo and Google have their own offerings, and other major portals have distribution deals with one or more of the big comparison shopping engines. There are also a string of smaller players that have appeared on the scene in the past year.

Ryan, formerly CEO of DoubleClick, founded ShopWiki in 2005 along with former DoubleClick CTO Dwight Merriman, now ShopWiki’s chairman, after the sale of the company last year.

ShopWiki will rely mostly on word of mouth for growth until the fall, when it plans to begin an online marketing campaign that will include search and other online advertising, as well as a PR outreach.

“While marketing is important, having a better product is ultimately what wins. That’s where we’ll focus our efforts,” Ryan said.

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