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Rediff.com’s Search For Search: Video, Buses, Local Language, SMS

The press releases, over the last two months, have mentioned the launch of two search verticals from Nasdaq listed Rediff.com: Products (comparison search) and Trains. But go beyond the releases to this page, and you’ll notice twenty different search verticals, many of which are in beta and yet to be announced – in particular, Video Search, Bus Tickets and SMS Search. Rediff also has a Local Language Search in the works.

Travel: Bus, Flights (Domestic and International), Trains, Hotels
Businesses: News, Jobs, Classifieds, Stock
Shopping: Product, Books, Shopping, Auction
Media Types: Video, Images, Ringtones, Ring-back Tones
Social: People, Blogs, Q&A

Search Integration?
Note the sheer number of search verticals that Rediff has launched. Does Rediff intend to launch a separate search page (like Google), or link searches to the content on the page? How will they integrate all the searches? Uday Sodhi, Vice President (Subscription) who heads Ecommerce, Search and Mobile Entertainment for Rediff, told MediaNama that they haven’t yet reached the stage yet where they’ll take a decision on a separate landing page for search – they are currently building out searches, and will base their decision on customer feedback – “We don’t want to be either this or that (Google or Yahoo)”. I think Rediff will have to take a call on either format at some point in time – else their search initiatives will find it difficult to gain traction.

Mobile Search
Rediff’s SMS search is currently limited to ringback-tones and ringtones; Mobile search, says Sodhi, is the fastest growing vertical for the company. In case of CRBTs and Ringtones, SMS gives users an option cheaper than calling up operator IVR Services at Rs. 6 per minute. On GPRS, Rediff has job search, airfare search, ringtone search, as well as their news search – News Hound. Its still early days for the GPRS site, though, says Sodhi.

Local Language Search
Remember that Rediff has announced that they’re building a local language search, which is currently being tested. At present, Google, Webdunia, Guruji and Raftaar offer local language search. Sodhi believes that the next set of users are going to be from the local language space; “We’re probably in a cusp-area right now when it comes to local language content.”

Limiting Some Search Verticals To Rediff Sites?
I noticed was that some search verticals are limited to Rediff sites alone (Blogs are limited to Rediff iLand, Shopping to Rediff Shopping), while others search across the board. Sodhi says that this is just the current format and will evolve. For example, the image search goes beyond Rediff, and aggregates over a billion images. Video search also covers a large number of sites. I think Rediff will also have to take a call allowing users to go beyond the Rediff domains for all types of searches, or restrict them entirely to the site. It’s more likely to be the former, since users traditionally don’t like searches to be restricted to one domain.

Incorporating User Feedback
The company is currently refining their search products, and will gradually open them out to the general public. Some examples of changes that they’ve made based on feedback – Sodhi says that the company was flooded with feedback for tatkal information (seats made available only on the last day) once they launched their train search. In case of airfare, they were asked to give a comparison between train fares and airfares, because air fares have increased.

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The Story Behind The Search Initiative
Ajit Balakrishnan, Chairman and CEO of Rediff.com wrote last year about how the company hired two students of Professor Soumen Chakravarty from IIT Bombay, for developing Rediff’s search crawlers. Chakravarty is the author of a research paper titled Accelerated Focused Crawling through Online Relevance Feedback and a textbook on Mining the Web: Discovering Knowledge from Hypertext Data. (Note: a passing mention of issues with establishing a commercial arrangement with IIT Bombay did receive some flack)

Update: Just noticed that Rediff is allowing users to embed the Train Search on their sites – see this. Would you?

So what do you think? Is there search beyond Google in India?

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