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Happy Birthday, Excite!

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Excite, the first search engine to go beyond keywords and introduce concept based searching to the web, opened its virtual doors to the public seven years ago.

Excite's founding and early days is the stuff of Internet legend. The company was founded by six Stanford students who wanted to hang around together after graduation. One evening at Rosita's Taqueria in Redwood City, CA, the group's Graham Spencer suggested they build a search engine, because information retrieval seemed like the easiest place to "make progress."

The group founded Architext Software, and initially set out to build a search tool that would work on very large databases and closed information systems. The web turned out to be a handy collection of documents to test the company's new approach to "clustering" documents based on concepts.

The company received $2.2 million in venture capital funding in December 1994 from Vinod Koshla at Kleiner Perkins, allowing them to move out of the silicon valley garage in which they had been working.

On September 27, 1995, Graham Spencer, VP of Technology for Architext Software, posted the following announcement to the comp.infosystems.www.announce newsgroup:

We invite you to visit "Excite", our new internet
navigation service. Here's what we have to offer:

* Entertaining and informative descriptions of more
than 27,000 web sites and newsgroups, written by
professional journalists.

* Full-text searching over more than 1.3 million web
pages, with automatically generated summaries.

* Full-text searching over more than two weeks of news
from 10,000 newsgroups. Plus, you can restrict your
search to classifieds newsgroups.

* Free! And no registration, either.

Excite went on to become a poster child for Internet mania in the late 1990s. The company went public in April 1996, at a valuation of $177 million. Over the course of the next several years, its market value rose tenfold.

The company went on a buying spree, purchasing pioneering search engine Magellan in 1996 for about $18 million, and WebCrawler for $4.3 million from America Online on April 1, 1997. The company's goal now extended far beyond being a mere search engine. Excite strove to be "the" destination site on the web, offering something for everyone.

In its bid to bulk up as a portal, the company acquired online ad firm MatchLogic, photo services from Web Shots, personal ads from Classifieds2000, and in one of the most wildly overvalued purchases ever made even during the peak of web mania, bought online greeting card site Blue Mountain Arts for just under $1 billion.

On May 28, 1999, broadband services company @Home Network today purchased what was now called the Excite Network for $7.2 billion -- coincidentally, on the same day that rival portal Yahoo purchased online community site Geocities.

Unfortunately, the "synergies" promised by Excite's flurry of economic activity never occurred. In fact, the combined company was doomed from the outset. Excite@Home filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on September 29, 2001. The Excite and Webcrawler portals were acquired by InfoSpace in early 2002 for $10 million, a mere fraction of Excite's value during its heyday.

InfoSpace continues to operate both the Excite and Webcrawler sites today, but the original search engine developed by the six pals from Stanford is long gone. No matter -- let's salute one of the earliest and most innovative search engines of the mid 1990s.

Graham Spencer's Usenet post Announcing Excite
http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=44ahk8$[email protected]&output=gplain

Inside Architext
Red Herring, March 1995
http://www.redherring.com/mag/issue19/inside.html
Red Herring takes a look at Architext, a Silicon Valley start-up founded by six recent Stanford graduates, and their journey from the garage onto the Internet.

Why Is Everyone So Excited?
http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit19990121.html
PBS Columnist Robert X. Cringley on Excite's early days.

Excite Home Page, Oct 22, 1996
http://web.archive.org/web/19961022175004/http://www07.excite.com/
One of the earliest screen shots of Excite's home page, from the Internet Archives.

The Big Four Meta Search Engines
SearchDay, September 17, 2002
http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/02/sd0917-infospace.html
Though there are dozens of useful meta search engines, InfoSpace is the industry gorilla, operating the four arguably best known and most heavily used properties, including Excite and Webcrawler.

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