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Monday, April 8, 2013

Web Site Answers Question of What to Do

Seeking to Outdo Google in Searching for Events

Staying around town over the weekend and your dinner plans have fallen through Turning to the printed page might not turn up many attractive alternatives, unless you live in a big city like New York, London or Paris and have access to magazines like Time Out or Pariscope. A Google search could present the opposite problem: too many events in too many places at too many times.

That is the proposition behind a new Web site called Daybees, which went live in Britain last month and plans to expand to the United States and other countries soon.

Daybees bills itself as “the world’s largest events search engine,” with a database of more than 1.5 million happenings of all kinds, whether Bon Jovi concerts or bake sales.

Daybees is one of the growing number of so-called vertical search engines, which aim to carve out a niche for themselves in the lucrative online search business, an area dominated by Google and coveted by other Internet giants like Microsoft and Facebook.

In areas like online shopping, travel or real estate, vertical search sites are well established. But Daybees maintains it is the first site, at least in the English-speaking world, to offer such a comprehensive listing of entertainment options without being tied into any commercial arrangements with the organizers.

While 1.5 million might sound like a lot of events, Daybees lets people fine-tune their searches for things to do by keyword, by location or by time and date. And Daybees argues that its results are more focused than those turned up by Google.

“I love Google,” said Gary Morris, the founder and chief executive of Daybees. “I use it umpteen times a day. But if I want to find an event that’s taking place at a certain time on a certain day, 2,000 feet from my front door or wherever, it’s impossible.”

“I was relying a lot on concierges and locals for information,” he added. “And what I found was that people’s knowledge of local events was not very good.”

While companies like Ticketmaster operate online listings, these tend to be limited to events with which the companies have commercial arrangements. Daybees says it is independent, and gets no commissions â€" at least not yet â€" though it does offer links to Web sites that sell tickets.

Independence comes at a price. So far Daybees, set up with an investment of about $1 million from Mr. Morris and Andrew Molasky, a partner and director, earns no revenue.

Not only does it not accept commissions, it also has eschewed advertising. Mr. Morris, a Briton with a background in the television business, and Mr. Molasky said advertising was a possibility, along with partnerships with ticket-selling firms, but added that they wanted to establish the site first.

“It doesn’t mean we don’t have a profit motive,” said Mr. Molasky, a Las Vegas real estate developer with a background in the entertainment business. “Our approach is, if you build it, it will come.”

That approach has fed the imaginations of countless start-up founders â€" and dashed the dreams of almost as many.

Vertical search is a hot area, with more and more ventures seeking to cash in on people’s desire to tailor search engines to specific needs.

The growth of vertical search has been driven by the spread of mobile Internet use, which has increased demand for customized, localized information, rather than the more extensive lists of results turned up by general search engines like Google or Microsoft’s Bing.

But Google has not stood still, fine-tuning its search engine and rolling out an ever-growing number of vertical offerings of its own, like online shopping and videos. Often, these are linked to other Google services like maps.

Analysts say that in Europe, where Google is especially strong, with more than 90 percent of the search market, compared with about three-quarters in the United States, it is particularly difficult for vertical search engines to establish themselves.

Indeed, the European Commission, in its antitrust investigation of Google, is looking into whether Google favors its own services in its search results, to the detriment of would-be rivals.

“Their ability to build scale or users has to be quicker than Google’s ability to innovate and incorporate such features,” said Chris Whitelaw, chief operating officer of the British arm of iProspect, a digital marketing agency. “I think Daybees probably has a window of opportunity, but they need to use it, otherwise Google will pinch their lunch.”

For many start-ups, including vertical search firms, getting on the radar screen of Google, Facebook or another Internet giant is exactly the point. That way, even if revenue proves difficult to generate, there is always the possibility of another way to cash in â€" a takeover.

“For some of these companies, the business model seems to be, How can we best annoy Facebook” said Andreas Pouros, chief operating officer of Greenlight, a search advertising agency in London.

Mr. Morris and Mr. Molasky say their focus for now is on building the business. They developed the algorithms that drive the search engine in-house, with a small team of engineers.

The site lists some American events, and Daybees plans to have an American-focused site within six months, Mr. Molasky said. The name Daybees, he said, comes from the fact that “we are all busy bees, and it’s about filling your day.”

A version of this article appeared in print on April 8, 2013, on page B3 of the New York edition with the headline: Seeking to Outdo Google In Searching for Events.