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What's the difference between a search engine and a browse engine? The latest challenge to the might

It’s been a few months since there’s been a launch of any serious competitor to Google. Back in July startup Cuil captured the news cycle for at least 24 hours, until browsers sighed a collective ‘meh’ and slouched back to the big G.

The challenges facing anyone attempting to take on the champ are seemingly insurmountable. The problem is that you’re not just fighting a brilliant search engine - you’re trying to reprogram the muscle memory
of billions of browsers. For many users Google isn’t even a conscious choice, it’s a reflex.

A good job then that new entrant Kosmix isn’t actually a search engine, according to its founders it’s a browse engine. Having just secured $20 million of new funding,
the site has opened up to the public for the first time in what’s charmingly called a ‘beta-ish’ launch. The home page gives you a clear indication of what to expect when you use it to search - sorry - browse.

Offering a neat aggregation of information drawn from all of the usual feeds, it’s like the portals of old remade for a Web 2.0 age. Top Digg hits, google search results (and ads…), most popular YouTube clips, trending terms on Twitter, popular images from Flickr and selected offers from various online stores all slot neatly into the magazine-esque page. It delivers exactly what it promises : What’s happening on the web.

Kosmix has been very successfully deployed already in the form of the American health site Righthealth and the success of that points toward where the technology seems at its most persuasive. Given a defined context of content to browse within the Kosmix engine really shines, but given the already fierce competition of start-page sites, not least igoogle, it really needs to differentiate more. As the pre-beta publicity has already begun on the next Kosmix powered site, Meehive (described by founders as a ‘personalized news dial tone’), this would seem to be something the developers are well aware of.

Kosmix is clearly attempting to offer something different to Google and its elegant execution makes it one to watch, if not quite one to adopt as your homepage just yet.

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.