Italian mathematician prepares to challenge Google

Massimo Marchiori helped with the giant's search algorithm but is preparing to launch his own search engine

The Italian mathematician who contributed to the development of Google's search algorithm is preparing to launch his own challenge to the dominant search engine before the end of the year.

Massimo Marchiori, an associate professor at Padua University, recently began talking up the new search engine with videos posted on a promotional website at volunia.com.

In a video that shows him sitting on a park bench and writing on a whiteboard, he explains: "It's not just Google plus 10 percent. It's a different perspective. It's a new radical view of what a search engine of the future could be.","

The website allows visitors to sign up for a chance to become "power users," who will test the beta version of the search engine, which is to be launched in 12 languages.

In an interview published in the online edition of the Corriere della Sera Thursday, Marchiori declined to go into detail about what would set Volunia apart from its established competitors.

"For the moment I can't say any more, I'm really sorry ... The fact is that an enterprise like Google, to give an example, would have no difficulty in setting 100 engineers to work day and night on our idea and in coming out before us," Marchiori said.

"If I didn't think it was something big, capable of competing with the giants of online search, I would never have got involved," he said.

Marchiori said the basic idea was simple and radically different from the current approach of the major search engines. "If Google uses a club, we will work with a fencer's foil. The difference of our search engine is what will enable us to emerge. And because Volunia will be really useful to people."

Marchiori is a member of the board of Tim Berners Lee's World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and has worked on the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) and the Web Ontology Language (OWL). His Hyper Search algorithm was presented at a conference in California in 1996, which was attended by a 23-year-old Larry Page. The algorithm later evolved into Google's Page Rank system.

The new project's headquarters are located in Padua, in northeast Italy. Many of the software developers are Marchiori's former students at the university, and funding is being supplied by Mariano Pireddu, a Sardinian entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the IT and telecommunications sectors.

"The partners are myself and Massimo, plus all the researchers who have collaborated on the project," Pireddu said in a telephone interview. "None of us is dreaming of creating a better search engine than Google. We think we can create an engine that is different from Google."

Pireddu is the owner of Malloru, a business consultancy located in the western Sardinian town of Oristano, and was formerly the president of Slovenian telecom company Voljatel and an investor in Mindware Studios, a software company in Prague.

Volunia's servers will be based in Sardinia and provided by Tiscali, but Tiscali founder Renato Soru is not an investor, Pireddu said.

"We have sufficient funds to finance the early stages of the venture. It's premature to talk about the possible entry of new investors," he said.

"The market will tell us in a democratic way whether our idea was good. If users like it, it means we have done a good job. If not, we'll correct the product," Pireddu said.

In his interview with Corriere della Sera, Marchiori said Google's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, had always acknowledged his contribution to the Google formula and he had no regrets that he had not participated in their astonishing commercial adventure.

"The idea of a vendetta never even occurred to me," he said. "The truth is that it's such a beautiful idea it would be a shame not to be able to realize it. And now is the right moment to do it."

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Philip Willan

IDG News Service
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