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This article was published on March 8, 2008 uses search info to match people uses search info to match people
Ernst-Jan Pfauth
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Ernst-Jan Pfauth

Ernst-Jan Pfauth is the former Editor in Chief of Internet at NRC Handelsblad, as well as an acclaimed technology author and columnist. He a Ernst-Jan Pfauth is the former Editor in Chief of Internet at NRC Handelsblad, as well as an acclaimed technology author and columnist. He also served as The Next Web’s blog’s first blogger and Editor in Chief, back in 2008. At De Correspondent, Ernst-Jan serves as publisher, fostering the expansion of the platform.

These days everybody is talking about the ‘open’ trend on the web. So do I, since it’s huge. Yet I also notice another trend: finding similar persons. It looks like people finally discovered that the web is an ideal medium to meet like-minded people. Last week I discussed matching service, today it’s all about a German service that turn search engines into meetingplaces: andUnite.

anduniteThe service launches in an English and German version tonight, and by then you’ll be able to find people with similar interests, based on your search terms. You can sign up (anonymously), install a plug-in that creates a social overlay on Google & Co and the service automatically starts collecting your search terms. The advantage for the founders is obvious: valuable information. Yet what’s in it for us?

I’ve asked co-founder Bernd Storm van‘s Gravesande: “Christian Schmidkonz and me were both frustrated with the boring and lonely process of web search. We thought that it would be always more useful to be able to ask someone who knows something about a problem or question instead of browsing though pages and pages of more or less interesting search result links. We thought that the value of a search term must be much higher than just being used for retrieving links from a database.”

Bernd and Christian were also curious what happened when they’d collect search terms in a profile: “Would the collection really represent our interests or even characters? And would we be able to get to know interesting people if we match our profile with the profiles of others? So, basically we started with an experiment but already with the first prototype it turned out to be a intriguing and addictive tool we created.”

“Most people don’t want to change their favorite search engine.”

They hired Christoph Fuchs, a ‘highly talented’ student, to help them developing the service. Now, it’s all about promoting their special concept. “We have to convince the users every day, that andUNITE offers a unique service which is not only useful but also fascinating and as already mentioned addictive.”

AndUnite immediately reminded me of Jimmy Wales’ plans to build a Google-killing social search engine. So far, people don’t seem to be really excited about Wikia Search. Why would andUnite do any better? Bernd: “Well, Jimmy Wales tries to set up a completely new search engine where users have to participate actively in the so-called social part of Wikia in order to make it lively. With andUNITE we sit on top of Google, Yahoo! or Live. We think that this approach will be more successful because most people don’t want to change their favorite search engine.”

“They also not necessarily want to actively participate in the social part right at the moment of search when they are in the need of information. They also don’t want to bookmark, tag or do whatever extra step right AFTER they found the information.” Bernd points out that Garett Rogers, a ZDNET blogger, ‘gets it to the point‘ while discussing Wikia or Ask:

“It’s not just the ability to produce a “better” search engine that is important though — that’s the easy part. The difficulty lies in getting people to use it because most people naturally don’t like change, or to be told what to do. Barring a barrage of unprecedented viral marketing campaigns, Wikia is doomed. Even great companies like Ask have been spinning their wheels for years while spending millions on advertising — and in some ways, you can argue that they even have superior search technology”

“Every user always has full control over the privacy status of any search term, before or after entering it.”

Bernd continues: “At andUNITE you don’t have to make any extra step during your search process and you’ll still get an added-value by seeing who else searched for the same at Google, Yahoo! or Live. We now know that search terms are a precious and sometimes private commodity. And that’s why every user always has full control over the privacy status of any search term, before or after entering it. And andUNITE can also be used anonymously since we only ask for an username and a password during sign up.”

So Bernd and his companion are building the service on top of the big three, what do these big guys think of it? Bernd told me that they did receive a reaction. “We are currently in talks with two of the top three about different kinds of cooperation. Right now, I just can say, that it looks very promising. As a young and creative start-up with a unique idea we are of course always curious what the “big ones”, or also the other small ones, are thinking about our project.”

I think andUnite is a promising project. It’s not a coincidence that they won a first price at an entrepreneurship contest from the German Federal Ministry of economics and technology. The jury thought that their idea in fact is an innovative approach to the so-called ‘social search’. Judge for yourself tonight.