What is Hunch?
Hunch.com is another new search engine designed to meet a need that the developers feel isn’t currently met by the wide range of search options now available. What does Hunch do that the other search engines don’t?
According to the brains behind Hunch, the search engine (which has been in development for over a year) helps users search for answers based on the individual making the search. Rather than returning generic results available to anyone who asks a given question, Hunch first learns all about the user’s preferences, dislikes, and internet traffic behavior.
Hunch is launching today, Monday, June 15, 2009. Hunch aims to spit out computer generated advice on actual questions inputted by a user — these can be any number of questions, ranging from basic info searches to lifestyle and even consumer based questions. “What kind of car should I buy?”, “What should I get my girlfriend for our anniversay?”, and even “Which album by the Beatles would I like?” are all fair game. By basing the results on the individual asking the question, Hunch is set up for “the new Internet”, a place that is mostly driven by intuition.
Let’s get one thing straight — Hunch is not a search engine, not by any current definition. Normal search engines, think Google Yahoo, peek around the “open Web” for information, or by gathering various written opinions, as is the case with Amazon.com or other retailers with search engine capability. Unlike all of these, Hunch gives you answers by comparing what it knows about you to what it knows about other users who may be somewhat like you.
Hunch’s founder is Caterina Fake, who you may know from her other big start up, a little site called Flickr.com. Fake has turned Flickr into one of the most popular file sharing sites, and after Yahoo acquired Flick in 2005, Fake was set for life.
How do you use Hunch? It stars out a bit tough. Users will begin the Hunch process by answering questions — a lot of questions. More questions than are on the chain email surveys your college roommate is still sending you. Hunch will propose up to 1,500 questions for you to answer about yourself, a kind of personality test that includes questions about your political positions, how organized you are, your belief in the supernatural, and even basic things like your relationship status and your preference for dogs or cats. Pretty sneaky — once enough people complete this massive questionnaire, Hunch will have a profile of a massive demographic, one that could be the largest collection of personal info in the world.
Hunch wants you to be comfortable with this level of privacy invasion. According to Fake, users of Hunch will become aware of the various demographics they belong to — “Single mothers who prefer dogs and voted for McCain in 2008 but are now considering the Green Party”, etc. Hunch is also very quick to point out that they will not be selling this data to other marketes, but simply using it to provide better results for their users. Unfortunately for Hunch, that “promise” to not sell user’s data is not backed up by any legal document. This means that the site can promise not to sell your data all day long, but until they put it in writing, the data collected by Hunch about your life could be up for grabs in the future. What happens if Hunch is a bomb? Will the bigwigs behind Hunch.com look for easy cash to cover their losses — for instance, by selling their massive demographic data to Wal-Mart or another huge commercial entity?
Getting back to the user process, after Hunch has pigeonholed you into a neat set of personal data, you can begin making requests. Let’s assume you’re looking for that perfect anniversay present — input your request, and the site will ask you a series of questions (normally between five and ten) to help narrow your anniversay gift options by category (jewelry, etc), color, other item specific details, price, etc. The result? A list of gifts or gift ideas that Hunch assumes will perfect fit your basic preferences — all based on that initial question session you voluntarily submitted to.
Early results will not be as strong as results to come in the next few years — this according to Hunch’s main brain, the aforementioned Caterina Fake. The real power of Hunch is its ability to collect data from across the spectrum of web users. The greater the variety of people that Hunch is exposed to, and the more requests that Hunch gives (and then receives feedback on), the better it will tell you exactly what Beatles album you would love.
A direct quote from Caterina Fake — “The measure of a really good piece of social software is whether it gets better or not as people use it. Because Hunch has been in a limited preview to the company’s inner circle, its user base currently lacks diversity.”
Fake said that based on early user feedback, Hunch is “getting it right” four requests out of five, but that Hunch’s developers want to see that number peak at around 95%. Hunch is currently made up of just ten people, though they are a powerful ten. Hunch has raised over $2 million in venture capital during increasingly tight economic times, most of the money comig from Bessemer Venture Partners and General Catalyst Partners.
Hunch is not yet concentrating on turning a profit — the song and dance of every new internet based venture. According to Fake, eventually Hunch will use the large number of user profiles it will generate to sell highly targeted advertising above the level of even Google’s mythical ad scale.