More on Guruji.com – Web search or Local search?

Guruji logoI first wrote about Guruji.com the day of the press release on Oct 12th. As expected, there has been a lot of news all over the media and quite a lot of comments/discussions here on iLeher because:
1. It drew comparisons with the media and investors’ darling Google
2. Search is hot (all Internet users today search because of the information overload on the web, and every searcher is unknowingly a potential customer)
3. They are funded by Sequoia – one of the most successful VC firms in Silicon Valley
4. They have a smart and experienced team on board

I myself being a software professional working in the field of search, have special interest in the technology and so I have been actively following and participating in various discussions about what could it mean for Indian internet industry. Obviously there has been a lot of speculation whether it will replace Google in India, or just add to the list of previous attempts like byindia.com, khoj.com etc, or they will rule Local search. In this post I summarize what they are doing and what direction they could possibly go. The timing could not be better as just today there was an interview with Anurag Dod (the CEO of Guruji.com) on Podtech India, where he talks a bit about their plans that confirms what I wrote in the first post about Guruji.com about indexing local languages.

  • I do NOT think they compete head to head with Google India in WEB search. Their homepage has only two tabs “India” and “Local”. They are optimized to support search for Indian content, which is not always what Indian searchers are looking for. For example, there may be a student who wants to search for the latest trends in their research area and in that case a localized search engine will be of little benefit.
  • I like to think of them more as “Local” search engine, which I think is a big opportunity. Local search in two ways:
    • Local search at India level: If you wanted to find out about the latest happenings about Bollywood or research projects happening in Indian Universities, etc. Search results rankings can be tweaked to improve the relevance based on various factors like whether the result is coming from a site containing mostly Indian content, what people in India generally like etc. One interesting scenario is for a query like “Taj Mahal”, you may not necessarily get the best result from an Indian or India related site. You may find the best info on Taj Mahal from wikipedia (which is predominantly not an Indian or Indian content related site), so should the India specific search engine include that result or not?
    • Local search at individual city level: If you wanted to find out what are the local Thai restaurants in your area, the max you could find today is the yellow page listings from different sites. This is where Guruji.com can help by providing the information in a much richer format. It can provide listings (like it does currently), maps, the restaurant websites, sites talking about reviews, etc. One notable player in this area is Onyomo (more on this later)
  • Probably more important feature is support for searching local language content. I wrote about this on my earlier post and Anurag confirms this in the interview. India has at least 5-6 major languages used by a non-trivial number of people (there is no English newspaper in the list of top 10 daily newspapers in India) and it is only a matter of time that there will be more and more sites hosting content in these languages. Currently Google/Yahoo do not support that and having this will position Guruji in a unique position, so they can search all Indian content regardless of the language.

The bottomline is that it will take some time for the verdict to be out. There is no doubt that there is a lot of potential and work to be done in the Local search area. I also think now that local search is becoming common in India, Google/Yahoo/MSN will try to make an entry and that’s when things will really start getting heated up. Love to hear your comments/thoughts here.

11 thoughts on “More on Guruji.com – Web search or Local search?”

  1. Pingback: IndianPad
  2. Madhur, I agree. But think of what the competitive advantages can be to create a barrier to entry.

    For local language content, how much content is to be crawled? How difficult it is incrementally for Google or Yahoo? Is there is fundamentally basic problem like chinese language search, in hindi or marathi or tamil?

    For local search, I think the problem really centers around lack of the base local content itself, to search across.

    We have been considering/thinking through this at Better Labs and all the recent momentum in the space is awesome. It definitely helps to see more opinions which can help extrapolate what the users want. So far, local search is clearly the message I am seeing from most of the blog posts and comments.

  3. Vaibhav,

    Great points. While the local language data may not be a whole lot right now, there is a fair bit of agreement in the circles that it will rise with Internet penetration increasing at a healthy rate. The search problem does get tricky when handling different languages esp. when you start doing advanced stuff like natural language parsing, concept searches, etc. Another interesting thing is building a good UI to let users enter their query in a non-clunky way. And the fact that there maybe 5 or 6 different ones in India will make that only worse, Having said that, it may be that its already in the works at other places like BigG and Y!, so I cant really comment on barrier to entry for them, but for a starter, definetely yes. I also think that the investment on this depends on whether it makes sense to invest in building this technology compared to the the revenues you can get out of this as the online advertising market in India right now is only a fraction of other markets like US or even China.

    Agree with you on local search. To be really comprehensive in India about the content, there has to be data from alternate sources such as yellow pages, directory listings, etc. I am researching a bit more in this area and will be posting about that in the future if I get any meaningful information.

  4. Also while on this topic, Raftaar is one player that I know of that indexes Hindi content and lets users search for that.

    From http://www.thebrandreporter.com/perl/tbr/afaqs_link.html
    “Raftaar.com lets users to search online content in Hindi by typing the keyword using its phonetic equivalent in Roman letters. For instance, keying in ‘bazaar’ leads to the Hindi word for ‘market.’ According to Peeyush Bajpai, Raftaar is not the conventional search engine. It integrates features like spell check and cluster search which is category-specific.”

  5. I am not too sure if Guruji.com will catch on in the indian space. Its very different world altogether. People search for specific stuffs around their city are miniscual, I think. And for a search engine to grow, it would need mass user base in the shortest period of time.

    But never the less, the crawler algorithm is pretty efficient. I did find in few case, close to what ever I was looking for in guruji.

  6. Hi

    Enabling search with local language input is something that the biggies have ignored so far. I hope the guys at Guruji think about it.

    [self-promotion alert] Meanwhile, we at http://www.pdstext.com have solved that problem for Tamil users, to begin with. You can search Google, Yahoo! and MSN in Tamil directly from within the site. We plan to add support for other major Indian languages. [self-promotion ends]

  7. Madhur / Vaibav

    In my option the key to success for a search engine like Guruji as rightly identified by Vaibav is local content, how much local information do you get looking beyond pizzas in Bangalore today? The Indian web spear is woefully short of local content that today.

    Secondly the Indian users base needs need to reach the 100 million mark that we are talking about. Currently we are stuck at the 30 ~ 40 million levels for some time now.

    Having said that it is for sites such as Guruji to take the challenge and address this, there is a big market soon to get ripe !!

    All the best Anurag & Gaurav

  8. Sajal,

    Your point is well taken. Like I wrote in an earlier post, I believe local content and alternative interface are going to be the key drivers for Guruji’s growth.

    Onyomo and JustDial are going to be a competitor to look for as far as these areas are concerned.

    Madhur

  9. I think you guys hit the nail on the head. Lack of local search content is a problem in India for crawl based search engines. Also directory listing can go so far and they hardly have any context to search on.

    What do you do when you dont have content? You create it. But wait. We are talking about huge amount of local content. And the best people to create it are the people using these local businesses every day. Let’s throw in these users to manage the scale of this problem. And the solution is “social activity and review based search engine”. Players like Burrp and Yelp have this angle. And I think they have a better shot to answer local queries in India.

    Google actually gets reviews from yelp and citysearch at maps.google.com as a special tab. IMHO guruji and onyomo will have to do something similar.

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