HeyStaks launches its ‘disruptive’ social search technology in the US

3 Mar 2011

HeyStaks Technologies, the Irish social web-search start-up that is aiming to disrupt the way people search on search engines so they can achieve more targeted results, has launched its initial products in the US market this week at the DEMO Spring 2011 conference, which was held in Palm Desert, California.

HeyStaks, which has offices in NovaUCD and San Francisco, allows you to collaborate anonymously with friends and people of like-minded interest as you search, to get better, more relevant results recommended by people you trust around topics that matter to you. It works with your favourite search engine so you continue searching as normal.

Technologies that disrupt

Search engines have not evolved much since Google hit the scene, that’s according to the Irish start-up, a University College Dublin (UCD) spin-out company that was founded in 2008 by Dr Peter Briggs, Dr Maurice Coyle and Prof Barry Smyth. HeyStaks is based on technology developed as part of Smyth’s research group and the CLARITY Centre for Sensor Web Technologies, a Science Foundation Ireland-funded research centre between UCD, Dublin City University, and Tyndall National Institute in Cork.

Algorithmic solutions and social search – where is it at?

According to HeyStaks, algorithmic solutions are still driving core relevancy, content farms are becoming increasingly prevalent and a serious nuisance to consumers and no meaningful social search solutions have been introduced. While some have dabbled in the searching of social content, no one has until now provided consumers with what is really needed, effective social searching of content to drive higher relevance of core web search results.


HeyStaks in action – its technology is aiming to move search into a more social arena, so people can get more targeted results when they search on sites such as Google and Yahoo!

Speaking in California at DEMO, Jonathan Dillon, CEO, HeyStaks, said: “Just as Google reshaped the world of search by paying attention to the links between pages, we believe that our social connections have the potential to usher in the new era of search.”

Dillon himself is a former vice-president of Corporate Development at Yahoo! and was responsible for many of Yahoo!’s acquisitions and integrations between 2003 and 2008.

“HeyStaks helps both consumer and enterprise searchers to get the right information at the right time, across all search engines, and helps us all become more productive searchers,” said Dillion.

Search staks

With HeyStaks, users can create ‘search staks’, collections of the best web pages from a group of users on a particular topic. These ‘staks’ can be made public and easily shared with colleagues and friends via email, Twitter, etc, or kept private or shared on an invite-only basis. The product provides an effective solution for users who share a common goal or shared interest, allowing them to search the web in a collaborative fashion using mainstream search engines, to make their searches much more effective by keeping the content relevance of results high. 

As an example, a ‘stak’ might cover travel information for Northern California, or start-up advice, or a group’s favourite restaurants. As a user, you choose your preferred ‘staks’ and who to collaborate anonymously with to get better search results. You might have one friend who has great insight into the design scene but knows nothing about high-tech start-ups.

Social aspect of web search – Prof Barry Smyth

According to Prof Barry Smyth, HeyStaks co-founder: “Our research combines some interesting stats that have driven our products.  One in four of our searches are for things we have previously found, two in three of our searches are for things someone in our social network has found, and yet mainstream search engines do not take advantage of this inherently social aspect of web search. And there is still a 50pc query failure rate across the search engines.

“So our research group set about developing a new approach to web search that is informed by the searches of people we know and trust.”

The Yahoo! and Delicious example

“Interestingly, around this general time Yahoo! acquired Delicious and had a similar, yet more modest, vision for social search. It didn’t work for various reasons, including the immaturity of social graphs, and social relevance ranking not being well understood. We in the search industry know that users have been wanting a more social experience for a while but no one has delivered. Now is exactly the right time for a solution like HeyStaks, which is meta and works across the search engines and social networks,” said Dillon.

Ad model for HeyStaks

He concluded: “We will also roll out an innovative advertising model later this year that capitalises on the higher relevance community filtered model and drives an ad model that is more appealing to consumers and results in higher ROI for advertisers.”

During 2010, HeyStaks secured €1m in venture funding from The Ulster Bank Diageo Venture Fund, which is managed by NCB Ventures. In addition to its Irish headquarters in NovaUCD, the Innovation and Technology Transfer Centre, HeyStaks also has an office in San Francisco, where Dillon is based.


The worldwide DEMO conferences focus on emerging technologies and new product innovations which are selected from across the spectrum of the technology marketplace. Throughout its 20 years of existence, DEMO has earned a reputation for consistently identifying new innovations that are most likely to disrupt the markets they serve and/or change the way technology is used.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic