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But Kozoru’s technology adds another wrinkle that gets to the heart of social networking. Kozoru doesn’t scan the entire Web; rather, users must identify sites they want to search by constructing a “byoms” (from “build your own mobile search”; company insiders pronounce the word like “biomes”). Users can set up a byoms to search a single site or handful of sites, on the theory that Kozuro’s natural language technology will improve on a site’s own search engine. That byoms, in essence, becomes another AIM buddy.

Significantly, they can also expand their universe of trusted sites by tapping into another user’s byoms. If an A-list blogger such as columnist Andrew Sullivan decided to collect the 50 websites that he considers his most important sources of information, for example, he could fold all of them into one byoms and publish it for others to use. Sullivan would, in a sense, be adding value to the search with his own editorial judgment.

“We will have publishers and we will have consumers,” says Flowers. “People could build and share their own search, and that is exciting to me.”

Adding social search capabilities to instant messaging may strike a chord with consumers. “The medium of IM has been underappreciated by nearly everyone in the media business for one reason: the leaders of the business didn’t use [it],” John Battelle, a founder of Wired magazine, writes in his blog on search, media, and technology. “But lord knows the rest of the world sure does.”

Yet at least one observer who follows the instant-messaging market wonders whether search and IM are a natural match. “To me it doesn’t sound like [Kozoru] is adding all that much,” says Charles Golvin, an analyst with the market research firm Forrester.

To Golvin, other applications take better advantage of IM’s unique ability to identify a user’s presence and availability on the network. For example, people using the networking site LinkedIn might want to know who in their personal network is also online. To that end, AOL has announced that it will enable sites such as LinkedIn to access its IM network. Golvin says eBay will likely offer buyers and sellers something similar with its Skype voice-over-Internet service.

The e-commerce possibilities are rife: customers on shopping sites might use IM to talk directly to customer service, or even to tap directly into a store’s inventory to find out if the CD they want is in stock and on sale.

If search techniques were to take advantage of IM’s real strength in social networking – identifying who is present and ready to respond – then even Golvin believes the strategy might have promise. “Social networking is shifting control to consumers and away from institutions,” he says. “As long as you are dealing with large amounts of information, search is fundamental to that. Search will be embedded in everything.”

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