October 31, 2005, 12:00 AM

Get fuzzy

Effective site search has come to be associated with a sharp focus on what the searcher is looking for. But one developer of search technology believes search could be a better experience for consumers--and capture more online conversions at merchants--if it were less sharp and a little more fuzzy.

Effective site search has come to be associated with a sharp focus on what the searcher is ­looking for. But one developer of search technology believes search could be a better experience for consumers--and capture more online conversions at merchants--if it were less sharp and a little more fuzzy.

Transparensee Systems Inc. has developed ­technology it says is a next-generation, more user-friendly product search that is an alternative to guided ­navigation. It treats each searched attribute as a vector and delivers results that not only represent the precise value the searcher has asked for, but also whatever represents the values immediately below or above the searched-for value.

For instance, in the case of a search on a real estate site for a house with a specific number of rooms, square feet, construction type, materials and multiple other attributes, a precise match might yield no results because no house matches all of what was searched for.

That leaves the searcher guessing at which values he must change to get a match. Technology developed by Transparensee finds results close to what the searcher has asked for, in addition to any precise matches. The technology makes adjustments concurrently across multiple data fields to deliver search results that are technically "fuzzy," yet meaningful to the searcher.

While the technology is in use at a real estate site, vice president of business development Bruce Colwin says an implementation has been developed as proof of concept for a retailer currently using conventional guided navigation, and is also being tested internally by a second retailer. The product has been deployed in the non-retail sector for more than a year.

The company sees potential application of the product for any online seller of products associated with multiple specs and data fields, such as consumer electronics, Colwin says. "Generally, product database search puts the onus on the searcher to keep ­changing his search until eventually he finds something the retailer has," he adds. "This is more like greeting someone at the e-storefront and asking, what is the product that is going to make them happy, and then bringing them to it."

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