Cazoodle Breakthrough "Place of Mine" Reinvents How We Search the Internet

February 27, 2012 (PRLEAP.COM) Business News
Champaign, IL-February 27, 2012- What does it take to find a home to rent? Scour craigslist, and many other websites. Maybe ask around for the best buildings and landlords in the area. Forward links to roommates or your significant other to share favorites. Read and write endless emails to schedule meetings with brokers and landlords. As of February, Cazoodle, Inc. will allow renters to do all of this search, collaborate and communicate — in one place via a newly upgraded apartment search engine called Place of Mine,

"We realized that apartment rental information has been a poorly served market," says co-founder Professor Kevin Chang. "There was a clear opportunity to more comprehensively serve users and take 'search' to the next level, making it work more closely to how things are done in the real world."

To this point, Cazoodle specializes in building search engines. The underlying technology, which was developed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by Dr. Kevin Chang and his research students, can crawl and transform web content from many sources into structured and actionable information. Cazoodle has taken this search capability and applied it to various verticals, such as apartments, shopping and vacations and also has provided it as a service to enterprise customers.

Place of Mine will aggregate millions of rental listings from many thousands of websites, including Internet listings sites, newspaper classifieds and individual property management websites. Users can then filter apartments based on beds, baths, price, amenities and location. A user looking for an apartment in Chicago, for example, would get anywhere between 10,000 to 30,000 or more choices aggregated from thousands of websites. The user would then be able to narrow down all of those choices with specialized searches, such as, '2 bedroom, 1 bath, within $1,500 rent range, with cats allowed, in the Wicker Park neighborhood'. Users will be able to overlay transit routes and crime heatmaps (in select cities) and customize the map by marking points or areas that denote special interest such as friends' homes or work places.

When analyzing users' needs, the Cazoodle team found that users most cared about how the apartment compared along the lines of rent, access to public transit, proximity to amenities and past crime occurrences. Given this, the team built a mechanism that provides each apartment with a rating of how it compares with the rest of the available apartments in that city in each category. Building this mechanism required the team to leverage Cazoodle's core competency of data aggregation in order to compile data from multiple sources such as the US census bureau, police departments of various cities, Openstreetmaps, Wikipedia, Factual etc. The team feels that this information will enable users to pick the best available apartment according to their specific needs.

Most people share apartments, be it with their spouses or with roommates. Cazoodle found through user research that searching for apartments with roommates was an area that had to be improved. To address this issue, Place of Mine allows users to create multiple lists of apartments they are interested in and also to collaborate on these lists with friends. Think of it as a Dropbox for apartments. Each list can be converted into a shared workspace where users can add apartments, comment, add pictures (from apartment walkthroughs) and notes. This is designed to make the process of working out which apartment the group wants to rent much easier.

The apartment search engine upgrade is only the beginning of Cazoodle's evolution to better serve the end user with its breakthrough technology.
The company will be taking this model in other domains. Some of Cazoodle's other plans include:

  • Customized Engines: Cazoodle also works with public agencies and private organizations, helping them better serve their end customer/user by leveraging Cazoodle's Data Factory. Previous clients have included the U.S. Army and PriceGrabber.
  • Grant Search: Cazoodle's latest client is the University of Illinois, where Cazoodle will automate the university's previously people-intensive Grant search product. The university researches grant information and generates a subscription-based database for their clients, typically other universities, for use in finding grant funding opportunities. Cazoodle's Web Data Factory will improve the product's offering and profitability.
  • Other: Cazoodle will also be exploring other verticals of search, including buyer-lender matching.

  • About Cazoodle

    Cazoodle, Inc. is a start-up company that emerged from a team of faculty and graduate students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and is now based in the university's incubator facility EnterpriseWorks. The project that became Cazoodle started in 2001 led by UIUC Associate Professor of Computer Science Kevin Chang and his graduate research team, who came from premier schools including Stanford University and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT).

    The team set out to explore the "Deep Web" and integrate various online databases. The goal became to produce an engine that could take the unstructured information on the web and turn it into actionable information. Once the achievement of that goal was in sight, in 2006, the team formed Cazoodle and the Web Data Factory was born.

    Today, the Web Data Factory is the first technology that can adapt to numerous verticals while maintaining its ability to yield a comprehensive, accurate database with pioneering search capabilities. The company is run by an international team with a diverse skill set including top engineers from the original research team as well as tech start-up and digital marketing executives. The team has launched several customizations of its Web Data Factory, including those in the verticals of apartment rental, electronic shopping, vacation rental and geospatial search, which was in collaboration with the U.S. Army to support the Army's intelligence database generation task force.

    Cazoodle was a finalist in the Innovate Illinois competition in late 2010. The Web Data Factory outperforms all other state-of-the-art data crawling solutions in terms of accuracy, scalability, complexity and affordability.