10 plus 1 questions with Boris Simkovich, Zuula.com
Zuula (http://www.zuula.com/) is a newish metasearch engine that I’ve been enjoying. Unlike most metasearch engines Zuula is not an aggregator. Rather, it displays results in a tabbed format which makes it easy to quickly click along and review results from different search engines. You can also limit your initial searches to these categories: Web, images, news, blog, and jobs. It’s a great interface and, like so many good things in life, Zuula is based right here in the Garden State.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Boris Simkovich, Chief Executive Officer of Zuula LLC.
- Question: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into the search engine business?
Answer: Well, you probably won’t be too surprised to hear that I didn’t grow up wanting to be in the search engine business!
In college, I studied engineering and economics, and I continued with my study of economics in graduate school, where I got a Ph.D. After that, I spent a couple of years in academia, teaching and doing research in economics, then switched over to the world of management consulting, where I worked for almost ten years.
I finally got involved with the search engine business when the consulting business I was running hired an old graduate school friend of mine, Tim Hunt. Tim also had been working in management consulting, but he had a long-standing hankering to start a software or Internet business. He couldn’t pursue this interest, however, at a traditional consulting firm, so he agreed to come to my firm when I said we would give him the opportunity to pursue a start-up idea while he also was doing consulting work.
So Tim joined the consulting business three years ago, and soon thereafter, we started considering a variety of different new business ideas that might match his interests (and, frankly, my own interests). About two years ago, we settled on the idea that eventually became Zuula.
- Question: Why did you name it Zuula?
Answer: That’s a question that gets asked a lot more than any of us at Zuula expected.
The answer to the question surprises a lot of people. We started off considering name ideas that were very, very different from Zuula. However, as we looked at different options, and also took into account what domain names (Internet addresses) were actually available, the search got more and more difficult. Finally, after playing around with different names that were short, easy to remember, and had available Internet addresses, we settled on the name Zuula.
So, in many ways, Zuula is a made-up name. When we selected it, we didn’t think it had any particular meaning. However, we’ve since found out that the word actually means “to take off” in a central African language, and we hope the meaning is a prediction of sorts for what will happen with Zuula.
- Question: Why did you start Zuula [as opposed to some other Internet-related business]?
Answer: We decided to pursue the ideas that eventually became Zuula for several reasons.
First, we liked the fact that Internet search is such a large business, and almost everyone who uses the Internet uses a search engine from time to time. This meant that it wouldn’t be too hard to find potential users for our new service, and that the service most likely could thrive even if it attracted only a small share of its overall market.
Second, we felt that the features we intended to offer through Zuula would, in fact, appeal to many people who use search engines. Working in consulting, we used search engines all the time. And, based on our own needs, we felt there would be a lot of interest in a search tool like Zuula.
- Question: How long did it take to get Zuula off the ground? What’s involved in launching a new search engine?
Answer: It took a LONG time to get Zuula up and running … a lot longer than we expected.
The basic idea for Zuula came into being in the spring of 2005. It wasn’t until that summer, however, that we decided on the features and functionality you now see in Zuula. From then on, it took almost one and a half years for our programming team to develop and finally launch Zuula.
As you know, Zuula is a meta search engine, which means that it doesn’t have a search index of its own. Instead, Zuula presents search results from a variety of other search engines – Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc. – for a number of different search types. This means that one of the key tasks during the development of Zuula was creating the routines that process the results from other search engines and display them at Zuula.
In addition, we had to design Zuula’s user interface and develop the necessary code for it, and we had to create all the help information and other content necessary for a professional site.
Finally, we had to optimize all of Zuula’s code so that it runs as fast as possible, and we had to establish a server network that was fast, reliable, secure, and cost-effective. In retrospect, I don’t think any of these tasks stand out as having taken particularly longer than we expected. Instead, what we learned is that it doesn’t take very long to complete the core aspects of any given task. It does take long, however, to complete each and every necessary detail of a task … and to get everything to work together successfully.
- Question: Why should I use Zuula instead of Google or other search engines?
Answer: Actually, the beauty of Zuula is that you can leverage its capabilities without having to give up Google (or whatever other major search engine you’re accustomed to using).
Let me explain.
I mentioned earlier that Zuula is a meta search engine, meaning it displays results from a number of other search engines. Unlike other meta search engines, however, Zuula does not aggregate the results from other engines into a single list.
Instead, the results are organized under separate tabs. Results from Google, for example, can be viewed by clicking on the Google tab. Likewise, results from Yahoo are viewable by clicking on the Yahoo tab. There are tabs for essentially all the major search engines, and five different types of search are possible: web, image, news, blog, and jobs.
Moreover, for each type of search, the user can customize the order of the tabs to match his or her preferences. If a user prefers to have Yahoo as her default web search engine, all she has to do is drag the Yahoo tab so it is the first web search tab.
In this way, Zuula’s users can do most of their searching using the search engines they’re already accustomed to. With Zuula, however, users also get quick access to results from other major search engines for those occasions when their default search engines are not enough. There is no need to re-enter search terms, and all search results at Zuula are presented in a consistent, easy-to-read format that clearly distinguishes between organic results and sponsored results (advertising). There’s even a collapsible list of recent searches which can be helpful for difficult searches.
- Question: What developments are planned? What do we have to look forward to?
Answer: We are constantly working on improving Zuula.
For example, we soon will be adding more search engines, and additional search types also should become available in the next several months. Longer term, users should expect to see more customization options and better international support.
And I shouldn’t forget to mention a major upgrade which we’ll be rolling out in the next few weeks. It will involve a unique set of features – based on some innovative new technology – that will make Zuula an even more powerful search tool. Stay tuned!
- Question: What does Zuula offer that might be of particular interest to the readers of Library Garden?
Answer: This may surprise many of your readers, but we’ve always believed that library professionals would be some of Zuula’s first fans. We thought that librarians – as professional researchers — would be particularly attracted to Zuula’s ability to streamline difficult Internet searches.
We also thought that librarians would see Zuula as a way to be more neutral when recommending Internet search tools to patrons. By introducing Zuula in their research guides, handouts, and links on public access computers, librarians can leave it up to their patrons to decide which of the major search engines they want to use for their Internet searches.
Thus, your readers may want to consider adding Zuula to the search boxes in the IE7 or Firefox 2.0 browsers on their public access computers. (There is a link on Zuula’s home page to add Zuula to the browser’s search box.)
Also, we’ll soon be posting html code on the Zuula website which will make it easy to add a Zuula search box to any web page. This, too, may be useful for any public access computers your readers may be responsible for. (There probably will be an announcement at the Zuula blog – http://www.zuulablog.com/ – when the search box code is posted.)
[3/2 Update: The code is ready to go at: http://www.zuula.com/help/ZuulaAddin.html]
- Question: What is your vision for Zuula?
Answer: To be honest, we’re cautious about having a broad, overarching vision for Zuula. When it comes to the Internet, what’s “visionary” today can quickly become ill-informed and misguided tomorrow.
Thus, we try to focus on things closer to the here and now. For Zuula, that means continuing to expand the power and versatility of its search capabilities. As simple minded as it may seem, we want Zuula to be one of the best ways to find information on the Internet.
- Question: I would love to be able to run a search and then subscribe to an RSS feed for that search that brings me updated results in real time (a’la technorati, delicious, flickr, etc.) Any plans to add that kind of RSS component?
Answer: Sorry, but we’re not currently planning any RSS functionality like you’ve described. However, we very much welcome suggestions, comments, and criticisms from our users, and we’ll consider adding this feature in the future.
- Question: So what’s the business model here? It doesn’t look like you’re selling advertising—how do plan to stay in business?
Answer: You’re absolutely correct – we’re not selling advertising. And I suspect it will be quite some time before we start selling advertising directly on our own.
Currently, the advertising we display at Zuula is the same advertising that users would see if they carried out their searches directly at the search engines whose results we display. Zuula receives no money whatsoever from the advertisements. Any revenue created by the advertisements is 100 percent retained by the search engines whose results are displayed alongside the advertisements.
Obviously, this approach is not sustainable in the long run. Instead, we expect sometime later this year to begin implementing arrangements to allow us to retain some or all of the revenue generated by the advertising at Zuula. This won’t happen overnight, but it’s certainly the long-term direction of the site.
- Question: I love the idea of the Zuula blog, but the posting has been pretty sparse. What do you see as the blog’s purpose and do you have plans to beef up the postings?
Answer: It’s unfortunate but true that the Zuula blog has taken a back seat to other work we’ve been doing since Zuula’s launch late last year.
However, you should start to see more regular postings at the site in the coming month or two. For now, our intention is for the blog to be a way to “highlight and announce.” “Highlight,” in the sense of explaining to our users features that Zuula has, but which they may not have noticed. “Announce,” in the sense of publicizing new features and functionality that we’ve developed for Zuula.
That’s not to say that our plans for the blog’s content are set in stone. Indeed, we’d be happy to hear from your readers what sort of content they’d like to see at the blog.