Tech Check

Peter Gabriel And The Filter: "Searching" Your Mind For Web Hits

Talk about a great couple of days last week: Wednesday into Wednesday night, I get to hang out with Bon Jovi during their Silicon Valley visit for a story on the technology the band uses in its show.

The very next morning, I drive up to Redwood Shores to sit down with legendary rock icon, and Genesis co-founder, Peter Gabriel to talk about his next big thing.

But instead of a loud guy talking about himself and his projects and his legacy, I got instead a thoughtful, soft-spoken, insightful visionary, thinning, gray hair and a distinguished gray goatee, taking what he says is the next logical step in his evolution as an artist and a businessman. At 58, he's launching his next project called The Filter.

At first blush, you'd think the website was designed to take on Google and Yahoo and other conventional search engines, a daunting task even for a big-time star, well-capitalized, like Peter Gabriel. But he's quick to point out that while there might be competition, he sees a time when The Filter co-exists with other, established search sites.

So what is The Filter? It's a search engine using a new algorithm that its creators say can almost read your mind. It bases its search results on patterns of searches you've already launched so the results are far more tailored to what the technology "thinks" you're looking for.

And that would be welcome relief for those of us used to searching for something on Google and getting millions of pages of results that we have to comb through to find what it is we're actually interested in. Gabriel says The Filter is kind of like a freedom "from" choice instead of the freedom "of" choice.

Peter Gabriel's Internet Genesis

"In the same way you have a disc jockey who makes choices for your music," he tells me, "You can imagine a life jockey who helps you with all sorts of choices."

"The Filter" got started last year and since then, about 200,000 users have downloaded the software. Up until today, the site has been solely focused on music. Today, the site, in beta testing, expands to videos, television programming, books and all sorts of digital entertainment.

Using the same algorithms, the software filters your online media activities and habits, and along with a social networking component, recommends results in which you're far more likely to be interested than conventional search engines. Or so the creators say.

Peter Gabriel Exclusive

"All these people going into video, what they're doing is adding inventory, adding content," says David Maher-Roberts, The Filter's CEO. "The one challenge we have is how the hell do people navigate around all this new content? And that's where The Filter comes in."

Even though the company says it's not directly in competition with Google and Yahoo, that doesn't mean it's got the market all to itself. Amazon is already there. Some of the major media companies, including CBS , are trying much the same thing.

Gabriel though might have a leg up, aligning the site with Apple Inc. and iTunes already, and looking for more partnerships down the road. In fact, once users download The Filter software, other companies can incorporate the algorithms and let users plug in their preferences to other online digital entertainment sites.

Gabriel tells me that his site could actually be a boon to digital entertainment as well as the creativity among artists trying to market and sell their productions, pleased to be building on his love of technology that stretches back to his electrical engineer father, who's 95 years old.

"With the music, the old industry is dead, but all sorts of interesting life forms are springing up from the corpse," he tells me. And The Filter will give consumers a better handle on finding the kinds of entertainment that appeals most to them, and with every new discovery will come even more.

"I just think you've got to follow the things that interest you," he tells me. "You've got to sniff and chase. It's a simple philosophy, really."

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