Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Browster—a nifty search utility or a new way to "frame" third party web sites?

Posted by Tom Foremski - July 13, 2005

. . . is the business model sound?
By Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher

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Browster was a hit at the Demo conference earlier this year. It's a nifty utility that lets you search through pages of search links very quickly. You just mouse over a link and a pop-up page of the source web site appears instantaneously.

That means fewer clicks. Compare it with the current alternatives: Clicking on a link, waiting for it to load, then clicking back to the search results, or opening new windows and then trying to find your way back to the search results.

On Wednesday, Browster launched its 1.0 version. I spoke with Scott Milener, CEO and co-founder of Browster.

"Our goal is to enhance the search experience because that has become such a big part of our lives. Search is where a lot of us spend a large part of our day, and Browster makes it possible to speed through many pages of search results," said Mr Milener

When a Browster-enabled web browser displays a page, Browster looks for links and downloads the home page of that web site into a cache on the client.

Mousing over a link causes a pop-up of that web site page in a separate window. The window also displays five text ads in a horizontal row in the tool bar area.

"By using Browster, people can search deeper within Google, rather than stopping after the first page or two. That means users have a better chance of finding what they want," Mr Milener said.

Foremski's Take:

It's a nifty utility - but is it a "feature?" Browster has filed four patents, but how defensible is its IP?

Downloading web pages in the background is not novel and is done by Internet accelerator products. And pop-ups are generic.

Prefetching and caching web content is going to be a standard feature of many more products, I would think.

Business model: Browster wants to make money by selling advertising that is part of a "frame" of a third party's web site. [Browster, BTW, does not identify itself to web sites that it visits.]

The framing of third party content was something that was tried and failed during Internet 1.0. This is a different twist, but not different enough to avoid the attention of web site owners. Those web sites will undoubtedly see Browster trying to profit from their work — with no kickback.

Another issue: Users are unlikely to click on Browster's text ads, which pop up and pop away, as quickly as they speed through searches.

Another issue: The web sites prefetched by Browster register the hits, but that doesn't mean that the user actually viewed the web page, because a Browster user might not preview all the links on a page of search results. This skews usage data.

However, this somewhat makes up for the fact that ISPs, telcos, and large corporations cache web site content all over the place and those page views are not recorded/reported to the original web site.

Another issue: Corporations will not like Browster because it dramatically increases the bandwidth load on networks. Suddenly, thousands of users are downloading 10 to 20 times as much web content each time they load a web page. Browster will very likely be banned from corporate work environments, which is where a large proportion of web searching is done.

Another issue: Browster can generate clicks on pay-per-click advertising, raising costs for advertisers. That's another reason Browster should identify itself to any web sites it visits.

I like the utility but, I don't like the business model. My advice would be to try charging $10 for the software instead of selling ad clicks around someone else's content.

Content producers are going to fight back against the aggregators, scrapers and all the others that want something for nothing, much.

Producing good content is not easy or cheap.


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