Matthew Berk is just four weeks into his new Seattle startup, Lucky Oyster. But the former executive vice president of product engineering at Marchex and CTO at Open List already understands that he’s on a potential collision course with the likes of Google, Bing, Facebook and others.
After all, Berk’s idea at Lucky Oyster is to index the world’s information, making it more socially relevant and easier for consumers to discover hidden “pearls” (get the name now?) from the noise on the Internet.
My first question for Berk is one he’s heard a lot lately from friends and colleagues: Aren’t Google and Bing kind of already working in this arena?
“Everyone asks me that,” says Berk. “There have to be crazy little guys in the world who tilt at the biggest windmills.” Berk’s previous company, Open List, was a pioneer in local search at a time when many of the big dogs hadn’t given it a second thought. And Berk, part of the team that sold Open List to Marchex for $13 million in 2006, thinks there’s room to maneuver again in the area of social discovery or social search.
But Berk is determined to make a mark. “I firmly believe that a tiny company can do special things,” he said.
At this time, Berk is the sole founder. (After all, the idea is relatively new).
But he’s already met with some success on the financing trail, pulling in $575,000 from undisclosed angel investors.
At the end of the day, Berk said that social search remains a big, unresolved problem. The first step in his mission is to build a consumer-facing application for mobile devices that’s designed to help people find “pearls” — the precious little gems that are often lost in traditional search results.
For example, Berk said that Lucky Oyster is being designed to not only find the best restaurants and hotels for each individual, but other things that are bit harder to track down like hikes or ski runs or recipes. Berk said that they are attempting to put “a lens of quality” on the results, helping consumers rise above the noise that clutters so many Internet searches today.
The idea is that the Lucky Oyster algorithms will not only be able to surface the very best nuggets, but the ones that matter the most to you as an individual. That could be hiking trails in Tuscany or spas in the Southwest. Whatever the case, Berk contends that Lucky Oyster will be able to do a better job than traditional searches. To get there, the data mining expert has been analyzing some 3.4 billion URLs, digging into the metadata behind each to understand where the “good” information resides.
“This content exists, but it is difficult to find it,” he said.
If all goes as planned, Berk said his goal is to “build a large corpus of things in the world.” Then, he’d like to use algorithms to make better sense of the data, making it more relevant to individuals. Other players are operating in the space, including Q&A-oriented sites such as Quora and Yabbly.
Competition, however, is not something that really gets in Berk’s way. “It is big, the challenge is big,” he says.