Where Are They Now?

  |  April 2, 2003   |  Comments

Search engines we've known and loved: a scorecard.

AltaVista, the Google of its day, will be gobbled up by Overture. AltaVista's not the only major search player to have faded. Come along and see early search engines that died, those that transformed, the survivors, and how "new" players (not so young anymore) are doing.

Rest in Peace

Open Text (1994-1997): Yahoo's original partner was a popular search site of its own. Open Text crawled the Web to gather listings, as Google does today. It successfully changed focus to enterprise search solutions.

Magellan (1995-2001): Magellan was an early search engine whose popularity dropped immediately after being purchased by Excite in mid-1996.

Infoseek (1995-2001): Infoseek originally hoped to charge for search. When that failed, the popular search engine depended, like others, on banner ads. Disney took a large stake in the company in 1998, going down the "portal" path other leading search engines followed. The site was renamed Go. The failure to make money caused Disney to stop Go's internal search capabilities in early 2001. Last week, Disney said Infoseek's technology and patents may finally be sold. Go continues to operate, soon to be powered by Google.

Snap (1997-2001): Launched by CNET, Snap used Infoseek, then Inktomi, then created its own directory of human-edited listings coupled with click-through technology that ranked results in part by what people clicked on. NBC acquired a majority interest, renaming it NBCi. It intended to win the "portal wars" with the site. As with Infoseek, the site's internal search technology abruptly closed. Currently, it's powered by InfoSpace meta search results.

Direct Hit (1998-2002): Direct Hit appeared at the same time as Google. It featured the ability to measure what people clicked on in search results as a way to improve them. A deal was struck with HotBot, and Direct Hit was offered as a search feature on portals such as Lycos and MSN. Purchased by Ask Jeeves in 2000, Direct Hit was neglected. It closed early last year.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Lycos (1995; reborn 1999): Lycos operated one of the Web's earliest crawler-based search engines. It stopped depending on that spider in 1999 and now outsources search results from AlltheWeb.

WebCrawler (1994; reborn 2001): WebCrawler exists as a meta search engine that gets results from other engines, not through its own efforts. Now owned by InfoSpace, WebCrawler was arguably the Web's first crawler-based search engine as we know them today. It launched as a University of Washington research project, was purchased by AOL in 1995, then sold to Excite in late 1996. WebCrawler's spider was deactivated in December 2001.

Yahoo (1994; reborn 2002): Before Google or AltaVista, there was Yahoo Despite the changes over the years, Yahoo has remained one of the Web's most popular search destinations. It stood out from early competitors by using humans to catalog the Web. Crawler-based partner results kicked in if there were no human-powered matches. Yahoo was more relevant than competitors for years, until the Google era ushered in crawler-based results that were both comprehensive and highly relevant. Yahoo caught up in 2002, when it dropped human-powered results in favor of Google's. The Yahoo Directory still exists and is leveraged by the company, but today's Yahoo is a far different creature than it once was.

Excite (1995; reborn 2001): Quickly gaining popularity after launch, Excite crawled the Web to gather listings. In 1996, the company bought rivals Magellan and WebCrawler, then was merged into Excite@Home. Excite stopped gathering its own listings in late 2001, in the wake of its parent company's bankruptcy. A new "Excite Networks" owns the Excite Web site. InfoSpace has a license to provide its meta search in perpetuity.

HotBot (1996; reborn 2002): HotBot was initially powered by Inktomi and backed by Wired. Wild colors, great results, and impressive features drew acclaim. Lycos (now Terra Lycos) bought the service as part of Wired Digital in 1998. The "other" Lycos search engine suffered from a lack of parental attention. Last December, it was revitalized as a meta-like search engine, offering access to results from Google, FAST, Teoma, and Inktomi.

Ask Jeeves (1998; reborn 2002): Hailed at its debut as the "natural language" search engine, Ask Jeeves's secret wasn't linguistic ability. Over 100 editors monitored what people searched for, then hand-selected sites that seemed to best answer those queries. The approach works for very popular queries but doesn't help requests for unusual information. Ask purchased Direct Hit in early 2000 to make the search engine more comprehensive. The company failed to capitalize on that technology but tried more successfully by purchasing Teoma in 2001. In 2002, it shifted to Teoma for nearly all its matches.

Same as They Ever Were

AltaVista (1995-): The Google of its day, AltaVista offered access to a huge index of sites at launch. It grew in popularity, but Digital, its parent, didn't know what to do with it. Digital's sale to Compaq didn't help. The situation grew worse when AltaVista was spun into a separate company, majority-owned by CMGI. It was relaunched as a portal in October 1999, entering a crowded field that took attention away from the quality of its search results. Dissatisfied users flocked to newcomer Google. Despite everything, AltaVista's crawler kept going. Overture now intends to buy the company.

LookSmart (1996-): LookSmart remains the only search company to rely heavily on humans to gather its primary listings. In 2002, LookSmart bought the WiseNut crawler to complement the human-powered results. Few people search at LookSmart's site. Instead, it provides search results to others. MSN is its major partner.

Overture (1998-): Formerly GoTo, Overture is a "paid placement" service. Sites were ranked in order of how much they were willing to pay. The Web had matured enough at this point to accept this type of commercialization. A similar plan undertaken by Open Text in 1996 was dropped in a chorus of complaints. By 2000, Overture abandoned driving consumers to its own Web site in favor of a network model that provides its paid listings to other sites. Today, Overture powers paid listings to major search engines such as MSN and Yahoo

The New Breed

Google (1998-): Ironically, Google is now the oldest of the "new" players. Launched in 1998 as a Stanford University research project, Google's ability to analyze links from across the Web produced a new generation of highly relevant, crawler-based results. By many different criteria, it's the most popular search engine in use.

AlltheWeb (1999-): A strong Google rival, AlltheWeb is nowhere near as popular with users. That is OK with parent company FAST. AlltheWeb was intended to demonstrate the company's ability to power other search engines' results by crawling the Web. AlltheWeb counts Lycos as its major partner. Overture announced in February it intends to acquire the search engine.

Teoma (2000-): Teoma is known for its own spin on analyzing links from across the Web to generate highly relevant results. Purchased by Ask Jeeves in 2001, it continues on as a site and provides results to the Ask Jeeves site.

WiseNut (2001-): This service was snapped up by LookSmart in early 2002. The company has been working to improve its technology and freshness.

The Powered-by-Others Bunch

AOL Search (1997-): AOL's search engine for members is currently powered by Google. Originally AOL NetFind, an AOL-branded search engine first appeared in 1997, powered by Excite. AOL briefly owned WebCrawler but sold it to Excite in 1996.

MSN Search (1998-): Microsoft provides a search engine to MSN site visitors and via Internet Explorer. This makes MSN Search one of the most popular search engines on the Web. Its search technology has always been outsourced, currently a combination of LookSmart and Inktomi results.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Danny Sullivan

Danny Sullivan left Search Engine Watch as of Dec. 1, 2006.

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