Dave Pell stopped by today to tell me about his new venture, Rollyo. The four-month-old startup lets you "roll your own search engine" by choosing precisely which sites to search. So if you type a word into a one of these "searchrolls," you get results from only those sites. You can also share these searchrolls with others.
Essentially, Rollyo allows you to craft your own specialized search engine in seconds. It's not an entirely new concept. Amazon.com's A9 search site lets you quickly set up specific sites or groups of sites to search. But Rollyo has a couple of interesting wrinkles.
For one, it's pretty easy to set up your own, just by typing in a list of URLs or importing them from your browser bookmarks. Before long, Pell plans a "bookmarklet" button for browsers that will make it easy to add new sites, and he plans to let you draw sites from your del.icio.us bookmarks as well.
Also, Pell has seeded the test site with searchrolls from some high-profile "high rollers" like "Will and Grace"'s Debra Messing (who lists online style shops) and uberblogger Jeff Jarvis (who lists "media buzz" blogs). I'm actually more interested to see how less famous people will come up with searchrolls that may fit my own quirky interests. "We are basically a social networking tool applied to search," says Pell, who thinks such narrowly targeted sites will be more successful than more general social networking sites (the enormously popular MySpace an obvious exception).
Pell, a former Brooklyn schoolteacher who has been largely an investor for the past seven years (including Odeo, Travelpost, and Brightmail), aims to make money the usual way at first: sponsored ads from Google and Yahoo!, the latter of which supplies Rollyo's basic search results. Later, he can envision selling targeted ads that would run in, say, a couple thousand travel-oriented searchroll results.
I don't know if, in an increasingly crowded Web, Rollyo will fly as as a freestanding site, or become part of a larger search site, but for now, it's worth trying out.