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Search Web site targets black audiences

RushmoreDrive, a Web search site geared to black audiences in the United States, will open its doors to the public on Thursday in a major foray for parent IAC/InterActiveCorp into Web content aimed at specific communities.
/ Source: Reuters

RushmoreDrive, a Web search site geared to black audiences in the United States, will open its doors to the public on Thursday in a major foray for parent IAC/InterActiveCorp into Web content aimed at specific communities.

Johnny Taylor, chief executive of IAC’s Black Web Enterprises unit, said the site aims to attract tens of million of blacks, of whom half are regular Web users. At its heart is a search technology that could serve the specific needs of other groups or communities, if proven successful.

“What we have created is the first search engine for the black community,” Taylor told Reuters ahead of the launch.

“It is not to be confused with a black search engine,” he said. “One analyst described this as identity search. We have built this technology not for a black patent ... but for a technology that should work in any of the identity groups.”

RushmoreDrive began as Black Web Enterprises one year ago, when IAC chief Barry Diller asked Taylor, then a human resources executive, to figure out how to reach the wide audience of African Americans, African and Caribbean nationals and other blacks living in the United States.

IAC has invested tens of millions of dollars in the venture, part of a strategy to focus on faster growing Web media and advertising opportunities as the company prepares to spin off four of its business units.

While many sites already provide a lively forum for black users, from Viacom Inc’s BET.com to Tom Joyner’s BlackAmericaWeb.com and AOL’s BlackVoices.com, RushmoreDrive wants to offer both mainstream and community-specific news, information and job listings.

That focus could make it more of a competitor to the Internet’s biggest players, like Google, whose success relies on a more general audience.

Based on marketing studies of black Web users and their online habits, Taylor concluded there was a demand for an information site that would offer the best of both worlds.

“(They said) I want to be a part of the bigger America,” he said. “If you can provide me with everything I’m currently getting in the mainstream search engines like Google, plus a blend of black information, you will be my starting point and destination.”

The company built an engine based on the specialized Teoma technology used by IAC search site Ask.com. RushmoreDrive also analyzed nearly five years of Ask data for the kind of information black users have been seeking, helping them to weigh the usefulness of sites they list on their search page.

For example, a search for “books” on RushmoreDrive calls up listings for both major retailers like Barnes & Noble and sites for African American authors like RawSistaz.com.

Major media companies have had limited success with sites tailored to specific groups, from NBC Universal’s iVillage for women to dating sites geared to Jewish or Catholic singles.

Taylor hopes RushmoreDrive’s appeal will come from combining search information, an in-house editorial team to add community news to a roster of top stories, and job listings.

Advertisers at launch include Coca-Cola Co. and General Motors’ Buick brand.

In addition to its own page, Rushmore Drive aims to act like Google in at least one other way, offering to build a search capacity into potential partner sites.

“We will be reaching out to the BETs of the world,” Taylor said. “I can provide you with a highly relevant search box now, so there’s no need to go to a mainstream search box.”