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Lycos Buys Wired, Gets Facelift

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Lycos acquired both a network of new web properties, including the HotBot search engine, and a new look in October.

Lycos announced an agreement on Oct. 6 to acquire Wired Digital, which owns HotBot, HotWired, Wired News, Webmonkey and Suck, through a stock swap valued at US $83 million.

Devoted followers of HotBot needn't worry about dramatic changes, at least for the near future. Plans are to run HotBot as a separate service, especially as it appeals to a different audience than does the main Lycos service. Lycos says there is only a 20 percent overlap in audiences between HotBot and Lycos.

Also, due to an existing multiyear contract, HotBot will continue to be powered by Inktomi. In short, HotBot should continue to be everything that you've liked.

On the heels of the announcement came an overhaul of the Lycos service. This is the latest in a series of significant redesigns Lycos has undergone this year, so users can be forgiven if they feel a bit lost. To provide some guidance, here's a rundown on elements you may discover on the search results page.

Along the left-hand side of the page is a navigational guide, which is designed to highlight content within the site, such as site guides and message areas. These will often be relevant to a particular search topic.

In the main part of the page, paid "Bullseye" links continue to come first, in response to popular search terms such as "travel." After this, a new "First and Fast" section may appear, where Lycos displays links to information it believes will be appealing. Links include content partner sites, pages within the Lycos service and offsite editorial picks.

"We're trying to categorize popular links and known content right at the top," said Lycos product manager Rajive Mathur.

The Matching Categories section comes next, where relevant Lycos Community Guides are listed. These are Yahoo-like lists of web sites, created using automated technology and user feedback. They are one of the best parts of the Lycos service, and I find the quality of picks is often far better than the Lycos web search results.

There are guides for all sorts of categories, such as budget travel, Windows 98 and gender studies. An important change is that Lycos is now listing fewer categories in its search results overall. Previously, a search for "travel" might bring up 10 or 20 travel-related categories. Now, things are designed so that mostly upper level categories are returned, the service says.

Lycos has made the change so that only a few categories are listed, so as not to overwhelm searchers. Lycos has also added descriptions to the categories, so that people know what to expect if they select a link.

"We want to have less links, but more relevant links," Mathur said.

Remember, you can always browse the community guides, in order to get a better idea of all categories offered. Top level categories are listed on the home page, just below the search box. Simply click your way down to an area of interest.

One glitch in the More Categories section is that Lycos is also listing some content that is not from its Community Guides, such as matching Yellow Pages content. Mathur says Lycos is working to correct this.

Below More Categories comes the Check This Out section, where Lycos content partners are given prominent links. Following this are matching web pages from the Lycos index.

The most significant change in the web search results is that Lycos has now instituted clustering. This means that only one page per web site appears in the top listings. The change leaves only AltaVista, Excite and Excite-owned WebCrawler of the major services not to do clustering by default.

Clustering is good, because it means that more sites have an opportunity to be represented in the top results. That offers searchers more choice. However, a flaw with the Lycos system prevents this from happening.

For example, imagine that a web site has four pages in the top results. With clustering, only one page will be listed -- allowing room for three pages from other web sites to be represented. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen. Instead, the search results simply grow shorter. No new sites move up to occupy the "vacant" spots.

Clustering can't be turned off, but the "More Pages" link below each listing allows the presentation of other page from that web site.

Also relating to web page results, I mentioned last month that the Lycos index seemed dated. It still seems woefully stale. Some new sites submitted nearly three months ago that I know of have yet to appear, and I've received similar complaints from various readers.

Furthermore, using the Lycos URL Finder, one can enter a URL and often find its last modified date. This can be a clue to how fresh the index is.

For example, a check on the Yahoo home page reveals a last modified date of July 6. Similar dates can be found for the Microsoft and Netscape home pages. This is an indication that information in the index is rather stale.

Mathur says that the index is constantly being refreshed, and that another catalog update should occur shortly. So we'll all watch and see if things do improve.

Moving over the home page, users will find "Search Options" and "Kids Safe Search" as choices prominently listed at the top of the page.

Kids Safe Search allows users to enable the Lycos SafetyNet filtering mode, which is intended to allow kid safe searching. A past Search Engine Report article below describes this in more detail.

Search Options takes users to the Lycos Pro service, where advance queries can be performed. One relatively new feature, added about four months ago, is the ability to search by language. Lycos identifies pages at the time of spidering and categorizes them into one of 15 languages.

Lycos
http://www.lycos.com/

HotBot
http://www.hotbot.com/

HotWired About To Encounter Its Hard-Charging New Master
Internet World, Nov. 2, 1998
http://www.iw.com/print/current/news/19981102-newsmaker.html

In depth look at Lycos CEO Bob Davis. Excellent reading.

Wired Digital Is Bought by Lycos
Internet World, Oct. 12, 1998
http://www.internetworld.com/print/1998/10/12/news/19981012-wired.html

Wired Finds New Network Home
Red Herring, Oct. 9, 1998
http://www.herring.com/insider/1998/1009/wired.html

A look at how the Wired Digital properties fit into plans for Lycos to establish a network of sites, in comparison to how acquisitions have gone with Lycos rivals.

Kid-Friendly Searching From Lycos, Disney, Ask Jeeves
The Search Engine Report, July 1, 1998
http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/9807-kid.html

Learn how the Lycos SafetyNet filter works.

Lycos Community Guides Get Comeuppance
The Search Engine Report, April 30, 1998
http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/9805-lycos.html

Describes how the Community Guides are created.


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