Kngine (pronounced kin-gin, short for knowledge engine) is one of those startups with a goal that’s both straightforward and impressively ambitious — it wants to build an app that can answer any question. In fact, when you open the app, it prompts you to “ask me anything.”
When I watched the promotional video (embedded below), the first thing I thought of was Apple’s Siri. And while Kngine co-founder and CEO Haytham ElFadeel doesn’t shy away from the Siri comparison, he also said Kngine has a slightly different goal. One of Siri’s big selling points is allowing you to access a lot of the iPhone’s functions through voice, so when your questions are more fact-based rather than task-based (i.e. Kngine’s strong point) it relies on Wolfram Alpha.
I haven’t had a chance to give Kngine a thorough test, but when I tried the app out, it was able to answer all of my random questions accurately. (Naturally, I started with “What is TechCrunch?”) ElFadeel also said the company hired an independent consultant to compare Kngine to Siri and Evi in a test based on the NIST guidelines, basically by asking a bunch of different questions. The current version of Kngine answered 54 percent of the test questions (either by delivering the correct answer that showed an understanding of the question, delivering a partial answer, or delivering the correct answer despite misunderstanding the question), compared to 26 percent for Siri and 25 percent for Evi. Among the questions that Kngine could answer but its competitors couldn’t: What band is Fred Durst in? What is the periodicity of Halley’s comet? Who founded the AARP?
Version 2.0 of Kngine, which has yet to be released to the public, did even better, answering 71 percent of the questions.
Behind the scenes, Kngine is constantly crawling the web, not to index pages like Google, but rather to extract knowledge and meaning. ElFadeel compared the technology to Wolfram Alpha, but he said Kngine gathers its data in a much more automated way.
Kngine is based in Cairo, but ElFadeel has moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and is building out a business development team here. The company has raised $275,000 in funding from investors, including Sawari Ventures. The company first launched a prototype in 2010, but it didn’t release a real consumer app until this year.
For now, it’s more focused on acquiring users than making money, but ElFadeel said monetization possibilities include running advertising in the app and also licensing the technology to other companies, say enterprise search products that want a natural language interface.