Redeye VC

Josh Kopelman

Managing Director of First Round Capital.

espite being coastally challenged (currently living in Philadelphia), Josh has been an active entrepreneur and investor in the Internet industry since its commercialization. In 1992, while he was a student at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Josh co-founded Infonautics Corporation – an Internet information company. In 1996, Infonautics went public on the NASDAQ stock exchange.

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Google - The next vertical search engine?

Since First Round Capital has a few vertical search engines in our portfolio (Krugle - a search engine for developers; and Biggerboat - a search engine for entertainment), I've been spending a lot of time recently trying to understand the vertical search space. 

What I've been most interested in, however, is Google's approach towards vertical search.  While a lot of attention has been focused on the recently launched Google Co-op -- which allows Google users to create a search engine for a customized collection of content -- I think that not enough attention has been focused on their OneBox feature.  I think Google OneBox is a pretty decent attempt to create vertical search functionality inside of Google web search.

If you're looking to book travel, you could go to vertical search engine like -- or you could just enter "PHL to SFO" in Google and you get a travel OneBox on top of your search results.


If you're looking to read books on global logistics, you could go to Amazon or -- or you could just enter "global logistics books" into Google and you get a book OneBox which lets you read the actual content from several books that discuss it.



Looking for news on the Iraq War?  You could go to a news site or news search engine -- or you could just enter "Iraq War" into Google and get their top headlines.




Looking to research a stock (say Microsoft)?  You could go to a financial search site like Hoovers or Quicken to get some info -- or you could enter MSFT into Google and get their finance OneBox.


Looking for a person?  You could go to Switchboard, ZoomInfo or LinkedIn to do a person search.  Or you could just type in someone's name and city in Google and get their phone number and even a map to their home.


Shopping for a product online?  You could go to a price comparison engine like or Shopzilla -- or you could just enter the product into Google and get links to their product search results.


Looking for a place to eat?  You could go to, DineSite or CitySearch -- or you could enter the restaurant name into Google and get complete information including reviews.


The list continues -- whether you are looking for pictures, Movie times, weather, a calculator,  or medical information, Google has a vertical search OneBox to answer your question.

I think that vertical search engines can still succeed if they offer additional application-specific features/navigation that differ from traditional search-box functionality (like Krugle) or if they focus on syndicating their results across other sites (like Biggerboat).  But Google's actions have real consequences for vertical search engines -- and I'm surprised that there has been more discussion around Google Co-op than Google OneBox.  By implicitly determining a user's intent, Google is able to take standard queries and filter them to their vertically focused sub-sites.  Am I missing something or does this have real impact on the vertical search space?


Peter Cranstone

Hi Josh,

Are any of your companies focused on Mobile search? And or in need of real time GPS data streamed over HTTP to a standard web server. If so please send me an email.

Many thanks,



josh -

i think at first glance, the one box functionality does reasonably well if the vertical search isn't very complex and the workflow for the user is simple.

on the other hand, if the underlying action/transaction has even modest amounts of complexity (comparing housing prices by location) or domain-specific workflow (choosing multiple routes with stopovers for travel), then i don't think one box solves the problem.

i *DO* think one box features could do a good job funneling users towards other more domain-specific search engines or websites, so in that sense i do think they capture user-traffic -- but i certainly don't think they provide resolution.

so for basic lookups with modest complexity and minor workflow, maybe it works.

for the rest of the universe of complex / vertical search, i don't think so... except as a funnel to other sites.

- dave mcclure

Ken Berger

Furthering Dave's thoughts: I'd say this is the kind of thinking that in THEORY makes a lot of sense, and stock analysts watch and draw conclusions about.

But in PRACTICE, it doesn't play out. In just about every example mentioned here, any power user would be left wanting.

Could Google (or another uber-company) perfect this w/ time? We'll see, though it stands to reason there'll always be room for specialist sites.



This is a fantastic post and a must read for all VC's looking into vertical search.

It is clear that it is going to be almost impossible for a vertical search engine to beat Google by "better algorithms". It is just too easy for people to do another search on google if the first one didn't give the right results.

The ones that have a chance are those ho bring new 'content' to search results.


ashkan karbasfrooshan

That's a question we ask every day!

Here's our answer:

Enjoy, feedback more than welcome.

jeremy liew

Couple of points here

1. Google one box is nice, Ask does it better and has done for some time, AOL also has been working hard on this. As you're pointing out the next level of improvement for user experience is not in further search result refinement, but rather query refinement. If you can infer that I'm likely doing a vertical search, then you can drop these results on top and give me less clicks to payoff. However, the question is how do you scale this - you can fake it with people to hit the head of the query stream pretty easily, which is worth doing, but you'll never get to the tail unless you can algorithmically divine qurey intent

2. To respond to some of the earlier posters, it ain't perfect, but perfect is the enemy of good. Power users may be left wanting, but the vast masses I think will (and do) find value in search engines taking a guess

Clint Schmidt

I echo McClure's thoughts. If you sit in enough qualitative research, it becomes painfully obvious: even those surfers in the upper echelons of "surfing savvy" have difficulty recalling or using all but the most basic search commands. It's so much easier for Joe Sixpack, even if he's veteran surfer, to bookmark a dozen vertical search sites and perform basic searches on each rather than remember how extract what he wants from OneBox. Now if Google was willing to sacrifice some valuable pixel space to nurture more sophisticated searches, they might make a dent.

Jeff Tokarz

Ditto Dave ...

Realigning business rules and wrapping a text box with disparate skins - doesn't materially change Google's search results.

Complex, multi-gram searches on OneBox fail to deliver exceedingly relevant search results.

Hmmmmmm .... does Google really intend to deliver anything but mediocre search results......?

Mark S

The battle against google in search is really uphill. In my mind you have to eclipse their results by an order of magnitude. I talked with the vp of biz dev at Hakia during web2 and she was giving the pitch so I decided to try it for a while. One week later I was back to Google. The results were simply not materially better - even obviously worse in cases.

Once you have a great search mechanism, even in a vertical space, now you have to get traction in the market - wow - that's rough. I love it that people try to innovate in this space and it's cool to never give up but that's a nightmare for only the most patient entrepreneurs/investors.

I think the game is not in search but in discovery - here they are weak and no one has applied serious technology to the problem. I'm biased though.


Hi Josh,
This is a nice article on vertical search. Today, vertical search is one of the most important and demanding aspects that different search engines are taking into consideration. It will be definitely useful for visitors those who are interested to gain knowledge on vertical search. As we know, presently Google has acquired a large market share in search engine industry and it is due to its multi search facility. It bears all the qualities of an advance search. By taking all these aspects into consideration we can say “Google is the best.”


Great discussion on the vertical search space. The explosive growth in the number of web sites/pages on the www will further propel the importance of vertical search engines. Google co-op is a good attempt in this space. But there are a couple of search vendors who are beginning to play in the space (Convera and SearchBlox). Convera is partnering with publishers to help them monetize their content and SearchBlox launched its own vertical search engine for green websites ( Will be interesting to see how this space makes progress?

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i would look up


Excellent! I just hope someone would obey the rules. Anyway, familiar with online shopping? This could save you a lot of time and effort. Thanks for the technology! I just have to search what I want to shop, compare their prices according to my budget and have it delivered at my door. You may want to check this out


This is a nice article on vertical search engine.If you have a intelligent search mechanism like offer additional application-specific features/navigation that differ from traditional search-box functionality you have to get traction in the market.

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