Not a day goes by when I don’t shake my fist at the computer in frustration; the recent explosion in web-based information has turned search into an activity akin to climbing a mountain. Which is why when I saw Searchtabs, a browser add-on, for the first time, I exhaled in relief. Suddenly, with the snap of my finger, my Google search results made perfect sense. And even though the add-on is still in beta, it does a remarkable job of organizing results into folders that relate to a specific search item. More importantly, it showcases the most relevant and useful links, thanks to the data collected by Xmarks, the San Francisco-based startup that was founded by Lotus founder, Mitch Kapor.
How it works
Xmarks started as a Firefox plugin called Foxmarks that synced and backed up bookmarks to its servers, for multiple browsers. The company that started three years ago had fortuitous timing — more and more people were using multiple computers both at work and at home and wanted to keep their browser bookmarks in perfect synchronization.
It developed similar software for other browsers, such as Safari and Internet Explorer, and saw the number of users explode. The company’s software has now been downloaded 20 million times, and it claims 3.6 million active users. These folks have saved around 800 million bookmarks, which Xmarks has categorized in folders, allowing it to build a taxonomy around these links.
Where some see a mere bookmark synchronization service — albeit a good one — I see a giant database of intentions. Take those 800 million saved bookmarks, mine them for patterns and you’d quickly start to see certain links emerge as more popular than others. Pardon the cheesy analogy, but it’s like the lazy man’s “American Idol” of bookmarks.
Xmarks has taken that data and married it to its new plugin, Searchtab. Once you install the add-on to your Firefox browser (for now), every time you search for something on Google, a bar shows up as part of the page. The Google results are shown alongside folders related to the search keyword.
It comes back with highly accurate and useful results. And when the service fails, it allows you to correct the results. Many of them are ranked by Xmarks, indicating the usefulness of a link. Xmarks has been able to develop this service because it built a back-end system that is robust enough to handle 750 client transactions per second or about 50 million transactions per day
James Joaquin, the chief executive officer of Xmarks who in his past life started Ofoto and worked as a venture capitalist, believes that Xmarks can sell advertisements against these additional results, and leverage peoples’ habit of constantly checking Google. (Related: Can Browser Plug-ins Be a Business?)
Why it matters
Think of what Xmarks’ Searchtab is doing as augmented search — after all, it’s making the search experience better. It’s only a matter of time before we start to see more of these add-ons and ancillary services emerge to augment search results. (Related: More Services to Help Discover Similar Sites.)
There is an unprecedented explosion of data taking place on the web right now, and all that content desperately needs context. As I outlined in my essay, How Internet Content Distribution and Discovery Are Changing, “we are seeing a disruption of behavior in how people use the web,” which in turn means that the 10 blue links popularized by Google won’t be enough. “We add 40 links or so to make more sense of our topics,” Joaquin notes.
Maybe soon, when Joaquin and his team are done building their product, I will stop shaking my fist at the computer screen as well.