Today I'm delighted to share some fantastic news. My company Kosmix has raised $20 million in new financing to power our growth. Even more than the amount of financing, I'm especially proud that the lead investor in this round is Time Warner, the world's largest media company. Our existing investors Lightspeed, Accel, and DAG participated in the round as well. The Kosmix team also is greatly strengthened by the addition of Ed Zander as investor and strategic advisor. In an amazing career that spans Sun Microsystems and Motorola, Ed has repeatedly demonstrated leadership that grew good ideas into great products and businesses. His counsel will be invaluable as we take Kosmix to the next level as a business.
In these perilous economic times, the funding is a big vote of confidence in Kosmix's product and business. Kosmix web sites attract 11 million visits every month, and we have a proven revenue model with significant revenues and robust growth. RightHealth, the proof-of-concept we launched in 2007, grew with astonishing rapidity to become the #2 health web site in the US. These factors played a big role in helping us close this round of funding with a healthy uptick in valuation from our prior round. Together with the money already in the bank from our prior rounds, we now have more than enough runway to take the company to profitability and beyond.
A few months ago, we put out an alpha version of Kosmix.com. Many people used it and gave us valuable feedback; thank you! We listened, and made changes. Lots of changes. The result is the beta version of Kosmix.com, which we launched today. What's changed? More information sources (many thousands), huge improvements in our relevance algorithms, a much-improved user interface, and a completely new homepage. Give it a whirl and let us know what you think.
To those of you new to Kosmix, the easiest way to explain what Kosmix does is by analogy. Google and Yahoo are search engines; Kosmix is an explore engine. Search engines work really well if your goal is to find a specific piece of information -- a train schedule, a company website, and so on. In other words, they are great at finding needles in the haystack. When you're looking for a single fact, a single definitive web page, or the answer to a specific question, then the needle-in-haystack search engine model works really well. Where it breaks down is when the objective is to learn about, explore, or understand a broad topic. For example:
- Looking to bake a chocolate cake? We have recipes, nutrition information, a dessert burn rate calculator, blog posts from chow.com, even a how-to video from Martha Stewart!
- Loved one diagnosed with diabetes? Doctor-reviewed guide, blood sugar and insulin pump slide shows, calculators and risk checkers, quizzes, alternative medications, community.
- Traveling to San Francisco? Maps, hotels, events, sports teams, attractions, travel blogs, trip plans, guidebooks, videos.
- Writing an article on Hillary Clinton? Bio, news, CNN videos, personal financial assets and lawmaker stats, Wonkette posts, even satire from The Onion.
- Into Radiohead? Bio, team members, albums, tracks, music player, concert schedule, videos, similar artists, news and gossip from TMZ.
Follow the San Francisco 49ers?
Players, news from Yahoo Sports and other sources, official NFL videos
and team profiles, tickets, and the official NFL standings widget.
In the examples above, I'm especially pleased about the way Kosmix picks great niche sources for topics. For example, I hadn't heard about chow.com or known that Martha Stewart has how-to videos on her website. Other "gems" of this kind include Jambase, TMZ, The Onion, DailyPlate, MamaHerb, and Wonkette. Part of the goal of Kosmix is to bring you such gems: information sources or sites you have either not heard of, or just not thought about in the current context.
In other words: Google = Search + Find. Kosmix = Explore + Browse. Browsing sometimes uncovers surprising connections that you might not even have thought about. The power of the model was brought home to me last week as I was traveling around in England. I'd heard a lot about Stonehenge and wanted to visit; so of course I went to the Kosmix topic page on Stonehenge. In addition to the usual comprehensive overview of Stonehenge, the topic page showed me places to stay in Bath, Somerset (which happens to be the best place to stay when you're visiting Stonehenge). It also showed me other ancient monuments in the same area I could visit while I was there. Score one for serendipity.
Some of us remember the early days of the World Wide Web: the thrill of just browsing around, following links, and discovering new sites that surprise, entertain, and sometimes even inform. We have lost some of that joy now with our workmanlike use of search engines for precision-guided information finding. We built the new Kosmix homepage to capture some of the pleasure of aimless browsing -- exploring for pure pleasure. The homepage shows you the hot news, topics, videos, slide shows, and gossip of the moment. If you find something interesting you can dive right in and start browsing around that topic. We compile this page in the same manner as our topic pages: by aggregating information for many other sources and then applying a healthy dose of algorithms. Dig in; who knows what surprises await?
How does Kosmix work its magic? As I wrote when we put out the alpha, the problem we're solving is fundamentally different from search, and we've taken a fundamentally different approach. The web has evolved from a collection of documents that neatly fit in a search engine index to a collection of rich interactive applications. Applications such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and Yelp. Instead of serving results from an index, Kosmix builds topic pages by querying these applications and assembling the results on-the-fly into a 2-dimensional grid. We have partnered with many of the services that appear in the results pages, and use publicly available APIs in other cases. The secret sauce is our algorithmic categorization technology. Given a topic, categorization tells us where the topic fits in a really big taxonomy, what the related topics are, and so on. In turn, other algorithms use this information to figure out the right set of information sources for a topic from among the thousands we know about. And then other algorithms figure out how to lay the information on the page in a 2-dimensional grid.
While we are proud of what we have built, we know there is still a long way to go. And we cannot do it without your feedback. So join the USS Kosmix on our maiden voyage. Our mission: to explore strange newtopics; to discover surprising new connections; to boldly go where no search engine has gone before!
Update: Vijay Chittoor has posted more details on the new product features on the Kosmix blog. Coverage on TechCrunch, GigaOM, VentureBeat. I'm particularly pleased that Om Malik thinks his page on Kosmix is better than the bio on his site!