Will Kosmix's Plan To Take Vertical Search Horizontal Go Flat?

Kosmix is a vertical search engine that launched in 2006. They also raised a heap of cash – over $25 million from Accel, Lightspeed and Cambrian Ventures as well as private investors including Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com and Bill Miller of Legg Mason Funds.

Although Kosmix founders Anand Rajaraman and Venky Harinarayan might have gone to school with Sergey Brin, their goal isn’t to take on Google. In a bit of a reshuffle since they first launched search engine, Kosmix now wants to use their search engine to create a “Home Page for Every Topic”. Their strategy is to create a series of targeted topic pages with relevant links, groups, and media. The pages are not only easily indexable by Google, but can easily generate new pages around a topic by typing a phrase into their search engine. It seems part Mahalo, part vertical search engine. Their first such vertical, health search, has been up for some time and currently does around 2.5 million visits and 9 million searches a month. “Neti Pot Facts” is one example of a search in which Kosmix has gained ranking.

They have been working on other verticals as well, listing autos, politics, finance, travel, and video games as their other categories. The hope is to scale to ever more verticals and then bind them together under one search box that picks the right vertical for the page.

Kosmix can continue to expand because they believe their method of search by category is sufficiently scalable. To add a new category, they’ll simply train the algorithm a bit, then let it to crawl the web on its own. Their category based search differs from Google’s popularity based page rank system by siloing websites into categories, then running searches within those categories. Pages are ranked based on how relevant their linking pages are as well.

However, as Kosmix moves horizontally they are placed in competition with a host of new vertical search engines like MedStory and Healthline for Health or Kayak and TripAdvisor for travel. That’s not including the knowledge databases such as Wikipedia and Mayo Health clinic, which high quality edited content. These verticals also offer specialized features such as maps, price comparisons, and symptom search. All things considered it seems a tough road ahead.