Goby.com: Search Engine Focuses on Local Events + Travel

Events are a vertical that cuts across many segments: travel, retail, sports, entertainment, education, dining, culture and others. Major players include specialists such as Zvents, Eventful, Americantowns.com and Center’d. City sites such as Citysearch and Yelp are active in the space as well.

A new one for us is Goby.com, a venture-backed firm that comes out of Mike Stonebraker’s relational database studies at MIT. The site, which launched in September 2009, has already had 250,000 visitors. It reviews 300 categories of things to do, from camping to opera. It can be embedded into other sites via Facebook Connect. An iPhone app is coming out “soon.”

The site breaks things up three ways: What would you like to do? Where? and When? It makes a special effort to go beyond “cities with airports next to them.” For instance, the most thorough listing of events in Carlsbad, CA 92009 that I’ve seen.

CEO Mark Watkins, a veteran of vertical search at Endeca, says the site is task- centric and created to be a “search engine for things to do in your free time. It does equally well for people planning a trip or sitting around the dinner table on Friday, wondering what they are going to do this weekend.”

It also approaches events in a way that Google may not. “Google gives answers for general purposes. But it understands keywords, not structured data. Plane tickets and other semantic information are not on Google,” he says. “We’re getting very focused results. We can sort Web data by price,” among other things.

The general model for search engines is to have a keyword and give back a URL, says Watkins. But Goby seeks to convert those Web pages to real world entities people can make decisions about. “We’ve cross-referenced photography from across the Web, and integrated more video types, and MP3 from concerts,” he says.

Another focus is to figure out how people decide to go to events. “We want to know: How did you decide to be at that restaurant?” says Watkins. It is the interaction of the search and gaming worlds, building off location-based sites like Foursquare and Gowalla.

Indeed, Watkins emphasizes that Goby.com is not just about events. “Events are really important. But they are one dimension of how we spend free time.” Travel is another aspect. “We’re coming at it like a search engine, as opposed to TripAdvisor,” he says. Travel is surprisingly local oriented and is more complementary to local than is generally realized, notes Watkins. More than half of queries — 55 percent — are typically near users.

As for revenues, the site expects to initially receive the lion’s share from affiliate and lead generation fees. It anticipates revenues from sites such as Priceline, and tour providers if it can recommend an Alcatraz tour in San Francisco, for instance. Or its personalization and recommendation engines can promote an Opera performance. When the site gets bigger, it will be more interesting to advertisers, says Watkins.

The site will also have a white label “pro” model for sites that might be licensed by media publishers, or travel suppliers.

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