Kara Swisher

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Searchme: A New Visual Search Engine

[Updated with correct funding of $31 million and note that Google has a similar effort in its labs.]

Today, Sequoia Capital, which has been a key investor of search giant Google (GOOG), as well as Yahoo, will unveil its latest investment in search, a visual search engine called: Searchme.

searchme

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company, which has been germinating for three years, has raised $31 million from Sequoia and others to further its efforts to make search look more lively.

(Specifically: $400,000 in Series A financing from Sequoia in July of 2005; $3.6 million in Series B funding from Sequoia in January of 2006; $12 million in Series C funding from Sequoia and DAG Ventures in June of 2007; and $15 million in Series D funding from Lehman Brothers, DAG and Sequoia in October of 2007.)

And, indeed, Searchme does look good, resembling a mashup of Google with Apple’s (AAPL) popular Cover Flow three-dimensional graphical user interface used on its iTunes service, with a little of Ask.com’s categories thrown in.

For now, Searchme is only going into private beta, adding users by invitation only.

To create the page-riffling effect, seen below in this screen grab (click on it to make it larger), Searchme has been working with Adobe. The top screen, after a search term has been entered, then creates a stack of pages to represent the page links on a list below.

searchme

Searchme’s chairman is Sequoia partner Mark Kvamme. Longtime Silicon Valley entrepreneur Randy Adams will serve as co-founder and CEO (CMO John Holland is its third co-founder).

Despite imaging billions of pages and indexing one billion pages, Adams acknowledges that results rendered are still weak, noting the site needs time to become more and more relevant.

A search of the name of my partner and well-known tech reviewer Walt Mossberg, for example, came up with some esoteric pages related to him first, well before it showed pages from this site or The Wall Street Journal.

“We are no Google, of course, but we are trying something different to provide a new experience for search users,” said Adams. “Most of all, we are trying to innovate in search, which is still largely a text and list experience.”

Adams has a point about the lack of innovation in search over the last several years by leader Google, which continues to grow its market share anyway. Google, in fact, does have a similar offering in its labs, but has not rolled it out.

So, it is nice to see some interesting ideas brought to fruition–even if Searchme really does look exactly like an iTunes copycat–in the sector.

As to the business model? It will be advertising, of course, both in text links and also in a more vibrant way on the image pages.

Here’s a video interview that I did with Adams late last week about Searchme, along with two Searchme demo videos below it:

Please see this disclosure related to me and Google.


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