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Former ThomasB2B execs unveil new vertical search model

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The month after ThomasB2B, the 16-month-old joint venture of Miva and Thomas Global Register, was quietly dissolved last August, three of its former executives formed a company called Tradecomet. Just three months later, the new company unveiled its first product, a vertical search engine called Sourcetool.com.

While Sourcetool is somewhat similar to major directory-type vertical search sites such as GlobalSpec, ReedLink and Hanley Wood’s eBuild, there are several distinct differences.

For a start, Sourcetool only accepts contextual advertising through Google AdSense, Yahoo! Publisher Network and similar networks. It has no advertising salespeople or sales programs of its own. Companies don’t pay to be listed, and potential buyers don’t pay to search. Yet Sourcetool is already profitable, according to Tradecomet CEO Dan Savage, who was president-CEO of ThomasB2B.

“We make a lot of money from Google AdSense,” Savage said, Much of the profit is invested back into Google’s AdWords and similar programs, he said, to keep driving traffic, which is growing rapidly. According to Amazon.com subsidiary Alexa Internet, Sourcetool.com’s daily reach per million topped 1,500 in early March and its recent weekly traffic rank was 1,771.

Jeffrey Dearth, a partner with DeSilva & Phillips, commented: “They’ve built up some traffic. I was surprised to see how high up there they were on Alexa.”

On the content side of the equation, Sourcetool doesn’t collect, vet, store or organize information the way GlobalSpec, Reedlink and others do. These other vertical search sites enable users to compare products from different manufacturers on a like-to-like basis, known as parametric search. Savage pointed out that it can take years and millions of dollars just to classify one market.

Using manual or editorial processes to pursue Sourcetool’s goal of organizing “all of the world’s business information as it relates to procurement” would be simply impossible, said Savage, estimating the universe of b-to-b supplier companies at 30 million.

Instead, Sourcetool is relying on an emerging international classification standard called UNSPSC (United Nations Standard Products and Services Code) to do the job—with the help of suppliers who must classify all their product pages on the Web according UNSPSC codes so that Sourcetool can spider them.

“From a technical standpoint, we are asking suppliers to set up a special sourcetool.txt file in the root HTML directory of their sites,” Savage said. “This will allow us to get much closer to a parametric search model.” He estimated it will take about three years for Sourcetool to deliver search results to the item level through this method, depending on the level of cooperation it gets from suppliers.

Dearth said Sourcetool’s use of the UNSPSC codes “is an interesting taxonomy. I like their use of the open standard and the way they’ve decided to monetize this directory through Google,” he said, adding that Savage and his team are wisely harnessing the bottom-up, user-driven capacities of the Internet.

Tradecomet’s second venture, AsianSourcetool.com—formed through a licensing agreement with Alibaba.com Corp., a leading marketplace for b-to-b trading in China—debuted in late February.

Tradecomet’s other founders are Michael Doyle, VP-strategic alliances & business development, and Dennis Jones, VP-technology. Doyle was VP business development at ThomasB2B and Jones was director of technology.

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