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The Search Engine Update, Nov. 5, 1997, Number 16

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THE SEARCH ENGINE UPDATE
Nov. 5, 1997 - Number 16

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About The Update
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The Search Engine Update is a twice-monthly update of search engine news. It is available only to those people who have subscribed to Search Engine Watch, http://searchenginewatch.com/.

Please note that long URLs may break into two lines in some mail readers. Please cut and paste, should this occur.

Happy Guy Fawkes Day To Everyone!

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Search Engine News
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MSN To Add Search Services

It's official. Microsoft has entered the search engine game. It announced in October that it would be partnering with Inktomi to add search to its existing web properties, starting with MSN.

Inktomi is the company that powers HotBot and several other search engines, worldwide. It does the crawling and maintains a central index that all of these services tap into, though each service may tweak how it returns results or may implement customizations to make it distinct from the others.

Microsoft's entry poses two big questions: will it make searching the web uniquely better, and related to this, will it adversely affect the major search engines? The answers seem to be no.

Technologically, HotBot and Microsoft's search service will be close cousins. True, they will have different interfaces, and they may tweak results differently. Custom crawling may even produce slightly different indices.

But Microsoft is not adding any special search technology to the mix. There is no killer search app that will be created. This may occur in the future, but at launch, it will remain more of the same.

Of course, many people love the results that Inktomi-powered HotBot provides. Inktomi has stepped up its crawling activity significantly over the past year, and it remains committed to maintaining a large, comprehensive index to the web. So it's not that Microsoft's search engine will be unimpressive. It's only that nothing radically new is planned.

If there is no technological reason for people to flock to a Microsoft search service, they still may come depending on how it is marketed. But the current plan is not to position a search-enhanced MSN as a new search engine.

"Our goal is not to make MSN.com the number one search site on the Internet," said Ed Graczyk, MSN's lead product manager. "Our goal is to make MSN.com the number one site on the Internet, period. And search is a key component of that."

To understand why the addition of search may be less of a threat to existing services than many might think, it's useful to look at two other publishers that offer search: AOL and CNet.

AOL opened AOL NetFind earlier this year, a stand-alone search service that is powered by Excite. Do the same search on either, and you will receive the same results.

When NetFind launched, no one said that AOL's search engine was going to drive the others out of the marketplace, as with predictions of Microsoft's entry.

This is for good reason. NetFind is not positioned as an alternative to the major search engines for the general Internet audience. It is listed on Netscape and Microsoft's search pages and has a few other alliances. But NetFind really depends on its built-in audience of AOL users.

So why bother having a NetFind? AOL could have stuck with using Excite, without the NetFind look and feel. But this way, it can exercise complete control over the ads that are delivered. It can also more easily blend NetFind into the overall AOL experience.

Plus, having a NetFind cloak over the Excite results makes it easy for AOL to switch search providers without disrupting things for users. Search.com did the same thing earlier this year, when it dropped AltaVista in preference to Infoseek for its results. And given a growing rivalry between Excite and AOL, such a move wouldn't be surprising.

So AOL provides search, but to consider it a major player in the search engine came would be overstating things. NetFind is not constructed or positioned as a serious alternative to online searching.

The situation is somewhat similar with CNet. It uses a licensed version of Infoseek to power both Search.com and Snap's search service.

Search.com is obviously positioned to be a search service to challenge the others. But in reality, it's the other CNet properties that point traffic its way. It serves mainly an audience already coming to CNet sites, rather than as an alternative to the major search engines.

As for Snap, search exists as a core component of the service. But again, as with AOL, this is designed to serve those already with Snap, or those coming to it for the wide variety of services it offers.

So while there are search-enhanced online services, these are not heavily promoted as the place to go for those with a specific need to search. Instead, search is provided as one of the many features they offer.

It would also be fair to say that users in general do not think of these services as they place to go for when they just want to search. Instead, they flock to Yahoo, Excite and the other majors.

Ironically, many of the major search engines have made moves to become "online services" to challenge the AOLs and MSNs. But they remain search services at their core and in the minds of many of those turning to them.

The specifics of how search will be integrated into the public and subscription-based MSN areas are still being planned. But search is planned to be prominent.

"It's safe to say that it will be very evident on the site, so that if someone is coming to MSN.com for the sole purpose to search, they will be able to do that very easily," Graczyk said.

HotBot and MSN will draw from the same Inktomi database. In fact, initially, submitting a site to HotBot will add it to the Inktomi index, which in turn means it will appear in MSN, according to Kevin Brown, Inktomi's marketing director.

But despite a shared core, the two services will be distinct and may perhaps grow more so. Interfaces will be different, and custom crawling may be used to enhance the main index. Eventually, new technology may be developed to suit the particular needs of an Inktomi partners.

"My expectation is that we're going to continue to work with both of these guys, and they're both going to have their own views on searching," Brown said.

While it would appear HotBot is be most threatened by the partnership, it feels comfortable that it has a different audience that what Microsoft is after. HotBot's appeal is toward those looking for pure search, while Microsoft is mixing search into its other offerings.

"The fact that the audiences are different will probably play out in how the services are offered," said David Pritchard, HotBot's marketing director.

The choice of Inktomi is a real boon for the company, which sprung out of the Inktomi search engine developed at UC Berkeley. It developed a new search engine to power its first partner, HotBot. Later, it partnered with companies in Australia, Japan and Brazil.

Beyond search, MSN is also enhancing its directory through a deal with Yahoo.

MSN has cut a deal with Yahoo to recreate the Yahoo directory within MSN. Existing MSN reviews and classifications will be added, but Yahoo's 500,000+ listings will make up the bulk of the directory.

It remains to be seen what will happen with the Internet Explorer 3 search page and the IE4 search page. Agreements to list various search engines in these important places were formalized a few months ago. Dumping the search engines would be the ideal way to drive traffic to a more search-oriented MSN, if the goal was to make it a search center.

However, a different division within Microsoft handles those placements. To date, there are no plans to change things. Graczyk said its quite possible that Microsoft might be semi-competitive with the search engines in terms of MSN, while continuing to partner with them in terms of browser positioning.

Finally, what's the new search engine to be called? The project was code named Yukon, but no formal name has been selected.

Microsoft-Inktomi Press Release
http://www.inktomi.com/press/mjwi-pr.asp

MS launches search engine
News.com, Oct. 20, 1997
http://www.news.com/News/Item/0,4,15392,00.html

Microsoft Network muscles into search engine business
MSNBC, Oct. 20, 1997
http://www.msnbc.com/news/117833.asp

Inktomi lines up alliances
News.com, Oct. 20, 1997
http://www.news.com/News/Item/0,4,15460,00.html

More details about the company powering HotBot and Microsoft search services. It does more than just search technology.

Microsoft-Yahoo Press Release
http://www.yahoo.com/docs/pr/release126.html

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Welcome To SearchEngineLand

This story was only slightly updated from the version that ran in the last update. Those who wish to read the newer version can find it in the current edition of the search engine report, http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/current.htm.

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Infoseek Gets New Look, New Life

Infoseek tuned into channels on Oct. 20, and its facelift announced visually that Infoseek is back as a force to be reckoned with.

Infoseek was never really gone. Media Metrix has rated it the third most popular search engine since May of this year, and the gap between it and second place Excite has narrowed dramatically since July.

RelevantKnowledge put it second in its August release, and Infoseek's drop to third in September was due to a change that combines Excite and WebCrawler traffic.

Despite Infoseek's popularity, analysts were discouraged earlier this year by management changes and a seeming lack of direction. There was a lot of doom-and-gloom that made it sound like Infoseek was on its last legs.

Now, recent moves are making even the analysts happy. A PR push has enlightened journalists to the service's popularity. The new channel format puts Infoseek alongside its competitors in the next generation of search presentation. New retailing partnerships have been announced, which should please those looking for Infoseek to bring in revenue beyond banners.

As if to punctuate its return, Infoseek's first television ads aired last Sunday during the X-Files season premiere in the US. They were quite funny, spotlighting two thugs who wanted to know how their captive knew so much about them. "Infoseek," the poor soul tried to tell the dim-witted duo, his words blocked by tape over his mouth.

Infoseek's new channel format has a lot to offer searchers. It rivals Excite in terms of breadth and compelling organization. Infoseek's channels also goes beyond Excite by dynamically appearing in response to certain searches.

When you enter Infoseek, you can choose to browse a channel, in the way you used to browse its directory listings (which are now part of the channels). Selecting Entertainment, for example, brings up a page with news headlines, web sites, links to chat areas about entertainment, and more.

The same thing occurs if you choose Excite's Entertainment channel. But with Infoseek, channels also appear as part of the search process.

Imagine that you search for "movies." Infoseek will place what it calls a "channel wrapper" around your results. In this case, the Entertainment wrapper is used.

Down the left-hand side of the page are samples of some of the content available on the full Entertainment channel page. However, search results remain the focus. In this way, channel content can suggest alternative sources of information without interfering with the actual search results.

"Our competitors still have the search and browse functionality isolated from each other, and we feel very strongly that search and browse are kissing cousins," said Infoseek Executive Producer Lynn Forbes.

Infoseek creates the wrappers by mapping certain phrases to certain channels. So "airlines" brings up the Travel Channel wrapper, while "computer" brings up the Computer channel. Of course, not all words are mapped. "Cheese," for example, just brings up a generic wrapper, though related directory topics, company pages and news stories do appear in the left-hand column.

Infoseek's best innovation is its results clustering, which will be more familiar as the "More results from this site..." message that appears at below some listings.

In the past, it was easy for some sites to dominate the top ten search results, either inadvertently, because they had many relevant pages, or intentionally, through spamming attempts. Infoseek's clustering is a unique way to sidestep the problem, and its completely unmatched by any other search engine.

After a search is performed, Infoseek looks through the top pages of results to see if any site appears more than once. If so, then it lists only one page from that site and makes the rest available through the "More results" link.

As a result, it's harder for any one site to dominate the top results. It's a benefit to searchers, who obviously would like to see more options in one glance. But even webmasters benefit, because it gives them more chance of appearing.

The system isn't perfect. Some spammers use several domains, and I could spot examples where duplicate or near duplicate pages were not summarized. But it is very good -- a real improvement that many people will appreciate.

AltaVista and HotBot also try to combat page domination. However, their efforts are oriented toward duplicate and near-duplicate pages. If they spot these, they will only list one of the pages with a description. The others get their URLs associated with this single listing. They can even do this if the pages reside on different servers.

Excite has a "List by Web site" option, but this isn't mean to eliminate page domination in the top results, as with Infoseek. However, it has a useful purpose. By selecting it, top results are organized by web site, with the web site with the most relevant page coming first. In this way, you can see many more results at the same time and get a sense of which sites may have the broadest content.

Infoseek has a few glitches. It is fighting very hard against spammers by refining its ranking mechanism. That can cause some relatively irrelevant pages to appear in the results of very broad searches. Also, a bug has caused Infoseek to report absurdly low results for some broad searches, such as 50 matches for "real estate." This is supposed to be corrected shortly.

Overall, the changes help Infoseek catch back up with its competition. Old and new users will likely welcome its new look and features.

Infoseek Press Release
Infoseek, Oct 20, 1997
http://info.infoseek.com/doc/PressReleases/launch.html

Infoseek Replaces Push With Pull
TechWeb, Oct. 20, 1997
http://www.techweb.com/wire/news/1997/10/1020infoseek.html

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AltaVista Expands, To Promote Itself

This story was only slightly updated from the version that ran in the last update. Those who wish to read the newer version can find it in the current edition of the search engine report, http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/current.htm.

The main addition was to note that HotBot is now at 80 million pages and to provide this interesting quote about spamming:

"We receive more than 20,000 URL submissions a day of which nearly half are pure spam," said Barry Rubinson, director of engineering. In the past, AltaVista's spam fighting had been on blocking excessive submissions. Now detectors are searching for overt word repetition and other techniques. Some pages are also flagged for human review.

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Search Engine Financial Results In

The latest quarterly result from three search engines are in. Yahoo comes out on top. The company posted a $1.6 million profit, by far its largest ever. Previous profitable quarters have never exceeded $250,000.

Yahoo: +$1.6 million
Infoseek: -$4.5 million
Excite: -$5.7 million

Yahoo beats expectations
News.com, Oct. 8, 1997
http://www.news.com/News/Item/0,4,15053,00.html

Lots of quotes from analysts and from Yahoo on where the company needs to go to stay profitable and successful.

Yahoo: Is There Any Upside Left?
TechInvestor, Oct. 13, 1997
http://www.techweb.com/investor/news/1997/10/1013yhoo.html

Despite recent profits and strong stock showings, some analysts still have a wait-and-see attitude about Yahoo.

Excite 3Q Positive Surprise For Wall Street
TechInvestor, Oct. 16, 1997
http://www.techweb.com/investor/news/1997/10/1016xcit.html

Infoseek beats estimates
News.com, Oct. 23, 1997
http://www.news.com/News/Item/0,4,15604,00.html

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Ask Jeeves Licenses Services

The Ask Jeeves search service has licensed its technology to the Electric Library and Infospace services. For those unfamiliar with Ask Jeeves, the service is a metacrawler with a twist. It provides matching web pages from various services, but results are usually prefaced by questions aimed at helping users find the information they want.

Ask Jeeves
http://www.askjeeves.com

Electric Library
http://www.elibrary.com

InfoSpace
http://www.infospace.com/

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Lycos Power Panel In Non-Java Version

Now the Java-challenged have a chance to play with the relevancy controls Lycos makes available through its Lycos Pro Power Panel. An HTML version is now available.

The panel lets you control how pages will be ranked by weighting various criteria, such as words appearing in the title or the frequency of words in the document.

Lycos Pro Power Panel (HTML)
http://lycospro.lycos.com/lycospro-powerpanel.html

Lycos Pro Power Panel (Java)
http://lycospro.lycos.com/lycospro.html

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Encyclopedia Britannica Launches Search Service

The Encyclopedia Britannica unveiled its Britannica Internet Guide on Oct. 14. This is not a service that lets you search the encyclopedia. It is an independent web directory. It loads fast, has some nice results, and it is probably worth a look for those in search of alternatives.

Listings can be searched or browsed. A web-wide search can also be conducted. The guide taps into AltaVista for this.

Britannica Internet Guide
http://www.ebig.com

Encyclopaedia Britannica Enters Search Wars
Web Week, Oct. 27, 1997
http://www.webweek.com/current/markcomm/19971027-brit.html

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Submit It! Buys Position Agent Checking Service

The PositionAgent search engine monitoring service has been acquired by the Submit It, one of the oldest and largest site promotion services on the web. The deal was announced Oct. 6.

PositionAgent was the first monitoring service to be offered commercially on the web. It debuted last February, and several similar services have appeared since then.

The services all work in a similar manner. You give them of list of search terms, and then they report back on where your pages are ranked in the major search engines for these terms.

PositionAgent continues to be offered as a separate service. In addition, those with Submit It accounts receive a discount if they add the service.

PositionAgent
http://www.positionagent.com/

URL Checkers
http://searchenginewatch.com/checkers.htm

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Search Engine Articles
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The XXX-Files
Washington Post, Oct. 26, 1997
http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPlate/1997-10/26/013l-102697-idx.html

Think spelling doesn't matter? One search engine reports that bestiality appears twice in its top 15 search words, spelled correctly and also misspelled. An interesting article that sheds a little more light on how search terms people use.

Roving Robot Will Unmask Online Music Pirates
WebWeek, Oct. 20, 1997
http://www.webweek.com/current/news/19971020-robot.html

MusicBot aims to hunt down sites using music samples without permission.

Search engines rev up a stream of revenue
MSNBC, Oct. 1997
http://www.msnbc.com/news/118262.asp

Plenty of good details about how search engines stand to benefit from retailer agreements made of late.

Search engines: The next generation
Network World Fusion, Oct. 20, 1997
http://www.nwfusion.com/news/1020search.html

An interesting look at the emergence of specialty search engines, though it incorrectly calls metacrawlers an emerging tool. Metacrawlers have been around for ages -- there are just more of them, now.

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Search Engine Notes
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Microsoft Active Channel Guide Better Out Of Beta

Last month, I talked about problems I encountered using the new Microsoft Active Channel Guide. Upon revisiting the guide with the final version of Internet Explorer 4, I found things to be much, much better. I expect to have more details about how the guide is compiled and can be used in the next Search Engine Report or posted as a page within the site. Keep your eye on the What's New page.

Microsoft Active Channel Guide
http://www.iechannelguide.com/guide/en/en_us.asp

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Sponsor Messages
================

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End Notes
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