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Quiver: Inktomi on Steroids?
By Andrew Goodman - July 10, 2000

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Scott Potter, CEO of Quiver, a hot new directory infrastructure company which seeks to capitalize on the increasing importance of vertical or topical searching. Quiver was founded by two algorithm and data experts, Ofer Mendelevitch and Avi Segal, whose collaboration began when they served together in the Israeli Army's elite technology unit. The company is now located in San Francisco (of course).

Human guidance plus popularity ranking algorithms

Every new web navigation service seeks to improve on the limitations of existing search engines and directories. The hottest trends in the past couple of years have arguably been notions of human-guided search, as well as technologically-driven methods of filtering or rating web content by popularity. Direct Hit, a "popularity engine," tracks the time users spend on sites under popular search terms. In practice, however, the technology hasn't lived up to its promise. Google is a more compelling search service, beloved by many for its uncanny ability to point to relevant pages. It is designed to assess the reputation of web content by assigning a PageRank score which is based on a complex algorithm which focuses on measuring the number and reputation of links to a page.

Like Google, Quiver leverages scientific muscle

As the Quiver folks pointed out to me, there is nothing straightforward about what Google is doing. Google's work is the culmination and commercialization of some high-level theoretical ideas about "spectral filtering" developed by computer scientists such as John Kleinberg and Amos Fiat (the former was a mentor for the founders of Google; the latter mentored the founders of Quiver). There is some complex math involved in ranking pages to determine whether they are either good "hubs" (point to a lot of important content) or good "authorities" (get linked to by major hubs). The problem is, there can be a certain circularity to such measurements, so there is a need for complex math to break out of the circularity problem. With companies like Google and now Quiver, we are starting to see the beginnings of a real commercial use of advanced search and filtering techologies. In other words, in the ongoing pursuit of more reliable Internet navigation and more relevant search results, we're just getting warmed up. The best is yet to come.

Quiver has chosen to go in a specific direction - choosing to become an "infrastructure company" which will power the directory offerings of vertical and niche sites. This makes sense in two powerful ways: (1) in a navigational sense, because the reputation of web content is being rated by the RELEVANT community, not by a diffuse collection of general web surfers, and not by one editor assigned to a category; and (2) in a business sense, focusing on the importance of vertical and affinity markets and the demand for custom content and directory services for the many niche portals now being built.

Beyond the "single editor" model

In the first place, then, we have yet another claim for enhanced relevance. It's a powerful claim, because Quiver has chosen not to rely on a general faith in "human guides" nor a technologically-driven solution that tries to master the entire Internet universe. It's a hybrid model. One of the first major Quiver partners is an example of the type of vertical or affinity portal which seeks a means of having the community of users recommend web content: As Potter put it, "what are users of this portal going to trust more if they are looking for a vacation spot, the recommendation of one 27-year-old Looksmart Editor, or the recommendation of the community of people who are members of" In the second place, Quiver hopes to find many partners willing to pay for Quiver as a solution to providing vertical-focused directory services in a similar vein to a company like Looksmart. Whereas Looksmart builds numerous custom directories using a team of professional editors, Quiver's custom directories will use a combination of technology and the surfing habits and recommendations of members of vertical communities. As a result, niche portals may find the custom Quiver service more affordable than Looksmart's.

Only as good as its partners

Of course, Quiver is a much newer company, facing the growing pains of any newer company. It has promise, but no one yet knows if Quiver can deliver. One potential drawback is that some of the Quiver measurement will require the downloading of a special toolbar. It will be up to vertical partners to offer their members incentives to use the "Qbar."

The advantage of the Qbar is that it tracks users' surfing habits more closely. Therefore Quiver is likely to deliver more reliable rankings than the popularity engine Direct Hit, which to some extent can only guess at users' patterns. Quiver has made some great strides of late, securing two rounds of funding from (among others) Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, based on the strength of its ideas and its ability to map out a unique strategy. The community-powered directory concept is a little like Backflip (the online bookmarking service which allows users to share collections) and a little like the combo of Open Directory Project and Google (a directory using a filter to rank sites by reputation or popularity). The difference is that the Quiver ranking technology is being applied by the most relevant community, and topic-specific versions of the directory will be deployed in many verticals rather than being touted as a comprehensive guide to the web.

Inktomi on steroids... they hope

Because of this "infrastructure" focus, Quiver and its VC investors hope that this community-powered directory service has the potential to be "Inktomi on steroids." I can't help but hope it realizes that potential. Quiver has similar appeal to some major players in the navigation and search infrastructure field, but it has cleverly chosen its own path - one which shouldn't overlap too much with others. In the end, Quiver will only be as good as its partners. May it find many.

Maybe it's just my overactive "spider sense," but I suspect something big might happen to Quiver. It could come in very handy to a vertical player like, or you name it. Human guides plus a system for tracking the habits of a particular community of members could form a powerful combination. Ask Jeeves acquired the popularity engine Direct Hit for what was then $507 million in stock. The early indication is that Quiver is offering something considerably more powerful than Direct Hit.

Update: since this article appeared in the Traffick Monthly for June, Quiver is close to closing deals with five partners, and has many more in the works. An updated version of the software is slated for release in September.


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