Goby—Exploring the Web’s Depths So You Can Explore the World

9/23/09Follow @wroush

It’s Friday, the weekend is beckoning, and you’ve got your Web browser open. As much as we’d love it if you spent the weekend reading Xconomy, there’s now a less sedentary option, from a Boston startup called Goby. It’s a search engine designed specifically to help you find fun things to do out in the real world—assuming, that is, that you already have some inkling of what kinds of activities you enjoy, where you’d like to do them, and when you have time free.

In fact, the Goby.com website—which goes public today after more than a year in stealth mode—features a row of three search boxes that ask you for exactly that information: What, Where, and When. Once you’ve given Goby those clues, the MIT-bred software behind the site goes to work, using what the company calls “deep Web” technology to scour some 500 data sources, from Yelp to to BedandBreakfast.com. Using the context it’s gleaned, it then organizes the results in a way that’s designed to be easy to explore.

Say you’re thinking about going hiking this weekend north of Boston. Goby will show you nearly 200 options culled from sites like The Trustees of Reservations, mntnLife.com, LocalHikes.com, and Wildernet.com, and arrange them in order of distance from a central point. Buttons within each result let you instantly view additional details like driving directions and photos. Every location is also displayed on an interactive map.

A Goby search for hiking trails north of BostonThere are plenty of links to the original sources—this is a search engine, after all—but the information is compiled so cleverly that you can finish a lot of your research and activity planning without ever leaving Goby. And that’s part of the point.

“Our belief is that today, information and choices on the Web are very fragmented, and people don’t have a good sense for how to browse it,” says Mark Watkins, Goby’s CEO and co-founder. “We thought there was an opportunity to pull that information together in a consistent framework and interface, where people will have a much more robust sense of their choices. We’re kind of halfway between a search engine and a destination site, in that respect. It’s not just about getting people through as quickly as we can. Product design and user experience are very important to us.”

By “us,” Watkins is referring to the small group of experienced, New England-based database researchers and search industry executives who started Goby in the summer of 2008. Watkins himself is the former director of R&D and professional services at Endeca, the Cambridge, MA-based enterprise search provider. Chief technology officer and co-founder Vince Russo, a PhD computer scientist who designed Goby’s core search functionality, is a former chief architect from … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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