So last night was the launch soiree for version 2.0 of Grokker, a search interface tool built right in my own backyard of Marin. It’s backed by Paul Hawken, and sports some impressive advisors, investors, and board members, including Paul Saffo and John Seely Brown. Grokker “gives the big picture” on large collections of data – it’s a visualization tool, and from what I saw last night, the new version is quite elegant. I saw a demo of Version 1.0 about a year ago and they’ve really made a lot of progress. I am a huge fan of the word “grok” – from its original Heinlein origins through Wolfe and Wired (where I helped the author of Wired Style write the definition) and the Standard (where we launched a series of newsletters and a magazine called “Grok“). It’s neat to see it making another round through the vernacular.
In any case the party was quite subdued by usual product hype standards, with an odd assortment of well-to-do investor types wandering shoeless through an extraordinary Mill Valley home, and Bonnie Raitt also in attendance (Bonnie Raitt?!), sporting a very down-to-earth and pleased-to-be-here manner. Groxis CEO RJ Pittman gave me a demo. Grokker takes datasets created by a keyword or phrase queries on sites like Amazon or “the Web” (it hits six search engines) and runs them through a second filter which displays results as clusters of nested orbs, each with tags derived on the fly from the data. It’s quite a seductive interface, and I can see it working for any number of search needs. And as a trend, I applaud this kind of development – building new applications based on search as a platform, rather like an OS. (Tim Bray among others have noted in the past how search today seems stuck at the level of the DOS C: prompt. Groxis might be seen as an attempt to go GUI.)
But the most interesting thing about Groxis is how it is approaching versioning – this release comes after more than a year out in the open, soliciting feedback (some of it quite negative) from the search community. With Version 2.0, Groxis plans to again listen and learn from how the product is used, rather than try to force it into a particular bucket of revenue (though they do have enterprise and licensing deals). This is due to the angel investors behind the company, Pittman said, who are not demanding a rigid, pre-determined approach to how the product will make money. That was exactly how Google did it in the beginning (and, it seems, how Friendster is doing it now). The Mac version will be ready to beta in a few weeks. When I get it, I’ll post more.