I was fortunate to recently chat to Justin Hartman, the founder and owner of a new South African search engine called Grabble. So what is Grabble?

Grabble is a sophisticated and intelligent search engine. Every time you enter a search query Grabble compiles results, eliminates duplicates, and displays the final results in a unique manner according to a special relevance formula. This process tends to remove much of the useless clutter and meaningless results.

I found Grabble’s birth to be pretty interesting. Hartman told me a little about it and it is a good example of how globalisation works, even for South African businesses:

Justin Hartman, owner and founder of Grabble.co.za, became increasingly frustrated with never being able to find pertinent, local search results. It was this frustration that spurred Hartman on to develop a local search engine that could do exactly what he wanted and utilising the skill and expertise of developers located in South Africa, India, United Kingdom and the Ukraine – Grabble was born.

The idea behind Grabble is to deliver accurate and relevant search results in response to searches conducted in the South African web space. Hartman has made a point not to include advertising on the site in an effort not to clutter the interface and the experience so I do wonder how the site will be maintained, aside from out of Hartman’s pocket.

Hang on, you may say, there are already a couple South African search engines. Off the top of your head, you can think of Funnel, Ananzi and Jonga (you can read my initial post on Jonga here) and never mind the big search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Live Search. What makes Grabble different and better than the other local search engines? For starters, Funnel currently indexes a mere 7,511,352 pages and documents from South African web pages and Ananzi indexes around 300 000 local web pages. Jonga, on the other hand, currently indexes "at least 26,443,000 web pages and growing". Grabble presently indexes "20,600,000 pages and documents from South African websites" and it launched just last week.

Of course the number of pages the search engine indexes is only part of the picture. If that search engine doesn’t serve up the right results then it is pretty useless. Before Google, the search engines of the day produced a jumble of search results that had very limited utility. Google changed all that with the proprietary PageRank system that ranked search results according to some very specific criteria and the end result was a more accurate search engine.

If you take a look at the Grabble home page, you’ll notice a couple things that are familiar and one or two that are new:

The familiar items are the options to search the Web, Images, Video and News. The new options include options to search Audio, Sport, Blogs and Forums. Blog searches are available on search engines like Technorati and Google Blog Search but this is the first time a dedicated blog search function is available in South Africa. Looking at Grabble’s competitors, it also appears that specific image, video, audio, sport and forum searches are all new here in South Africa, bearing in mind that Grabble indexes and searches South African sites. The forum search is an interesting search option. There are a number of pretty active forums (I know ‘fora’ is probably the correct word …) in South Africa and it really makes a lot of sense to index these sites and even provide for specific searches for those people who just want to see conversations about certain topics and not every other search result on those topics.

So where to next with Grabble? Hartman sent me a little information about where he sees Grabble heading in the near future:

There remains no doubt that Grabble is still a baby but over the next few weeks and months Grabble will be introducing some new, never-before-seen, features to the South African search market.

A new unique feature that will be released shortly is Grabble Trends. For the first time in South Africa Grabble will be capturing and analysing search trends in South Africa and all of this analytical data will be made available to the public free of charge.

By the end of the year Grabble News will be launched to the public. This is our version of a news aggregation service using various South African news and information sources to aggregate content.

Grabble will be a pioneer in the not to distant future but you will simply have to watch this space in order to see the story unfold.

What we are seeing is the emergence of a local mini-Google. No other South African search engine offers the search functionality that Grabble does and Hartman’s plans to extend Grabble’s functionality could well place it ahead of its local competitors as the king of South African search. I think this is a really exciting project, if anything, because it is a South African project serving South African needs.

So why not head over to Grabble and give it a try. Run comparable searches on Grabble, Jonga, Funnel and Ananzi and you decide which search engine searches South Africa best. While you’re at it, don’t forget about Google South Africa and run a couple comparable searches between Grabble and Google South Africa.

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