Webaroo packs up the Web to go
A startup wants road warriors to tote a copy of the Web around with them.
By Om Malik, Business 2.0 magazine senior writer

SAN FRANCISCO (Business 2.0 Magazine) - Acer, the world's fourth-largest PC maker, is teaming up with a Silicon Valley startup to let road warriors take a copy of the Web with them.

In search of a signal

The startup, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Webaroo, is expected to announce a deal today to have its software installed on Acer laptops worldwide, storing the content of Web pages for retrieval offline and serving up advertisements alongside them.

Webaroo's software takes advantage of the same technological trend that lets users carry their entire music collection and a season's worth of television shows on their iPods: Ever-expanding hard drives. Laptops, too, now come with large hard drives, making it possible for Webaroo to download, compress, and store a library of what the company calls the "best subset of Web pages."

Co-founder Rakesh Mathur came up with the idea when trying to find a Wi-Fi signal in Seattle in 2004. Coverage was spotty at best. "I asked myself, What if I could just simply carry all the information from the web with me?" says Mathur. "That's how Webaroo began," says Mathur.

Though there is a lot of talk about always-on connections covering the planet, the reality is that we are still a few years off from a world where we will always be plugged in. Wi-Fi hotspots, though growing in numbers, are still hard to find. 3G networks are mostly found in big urban centers. And in-flight Internet access is still a novelty offered only on a handful of international flights.

Nearly two years later, Mathur's original idea has come to fruition. Webaroo has developed a technology that allows consumers to download the most relevant pages on the Internet to their PC's desktop. "What we are doing is giving you a connected experience in an offline form," says Mathur.

With Webaroo, users can pick favorite Google (Research) searches and bookmarked websites to store for later retrieval. When a user's machine is connected to the Internet, Webaroo downloads the bookmarked websites and links from the first couple of Google search result pages, and compresses the results. Mathur claims that his start-up has been able to shrink the publicly available information on the web by a factor of 25,000 into a 40-gigabyte file.

Ad-supported search

The software includes a built-in search engine, and when a user searches through the downloaded library, keyword-related ads show up.

Users can also copy portions of the downloaded Web onto handhelds and smartphones running Microsoft's (Research) Windows Mobile software.

Mathur is making a contrarian bet - that the price of storage will drop faster than broadband will spread.

"The fact is that the price of storage is going to keep falling," says Mathur. Flash memory cards and hard drives keep getting cheaper as their capacities increase. That trend is not going to end anytime soon, he argues.

Mathur's idea has resonated with venture capitalists like Roger McNamee, who's among the investors who have put nearly $8 million in the company. And Acer's support is also a key endorsement.

"We think Webaroo adds value to the computers we sell," says Campbell Kan, head of Acer's mobile-computing business unit.

Webaroo also adds value directly to Acer: Under the deal, the PC maker will get a cut of advertising displayed on its machines.

"It is going to help increase our margins as well," says Kan. Top of page

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