LookSmart announced this month its intention to purchase the WiseNut search engine, which it hopes will turn LookSmart into an "all-in-one" solution for portals, internet service providers and others who need a search solution.
LookSmart is a human-powered directory, and like all such directories, it has a weakness in that it may not have answers to unusual or uncommon queries. This means that it must partner with a crawler-based search engine to ensure it always has matches.
Inktomi has been LookSmart's crawler-based partner, but that partnership will end, when the WiseNut acquisition and integration into LookSmart is completed.
Indeed, not only will Inktomi be ousted as LookSmart's crawler partner, but the addition of WiseNut results means that LookSmart will be now fighting for the same clients that Inktomi wants -- along with every other search provider out there, such as FAST, Ask Jeeves, Overture and Google.
"It was very clear with the partners we spoke with that they want a solution that is focused on the sweet spot of monetization and relevancy," said LookSmart chairman and CEO Evan Thornley. "We obviously want to make sure we are in a position where we can win on relevance and monetization and take on folks like Google."
Don't expect any immediate changes on the LookSmart site, especially given that the WiseNut acquisition has yet to be concluded. Inktomi remains the crawler-based partner there, while FAST's search technology is used to sort through LookSmart's human-compiled database. But in the long run, this seems likely to change.
"We value our relationships with both of those companies and work with them globally in many ways. Obviously having our [WiseNut” technology may change that relationship over time," Thornley said.
As for Inktomi, the company said that it was currently "evaluating" its relationship with LookSmart.
What's likely to happen at LookSmart? The plans are sketchy so far, but it seems that LookSmart will probably follow the same system it currently operates: listing LookSmart directory categories first, sites from within the directory next and then crawler-based results from across the web, as found by WiseNut.
This situation should hold true at any site that takes a direct real-time feed from LookSmart, such as Prodigy. However, it won't make an impact at LookSmart's largest partner, MSN Search. This is because MSN Search takes LookSmart's directory listings and applies its own ranking algorithms to them. MSN Search also independently contracts with Inktomi for crawler-based results.
WiseNut will not simply be used to provide crawler-based results, however. LookSmart also intends to use WiseNut to sort through its human-compiled directory results, a change it says will help increase revenues.
"Well still be selling primarily inclusion products to our customers, and they will come up in more relevant places that in the past," Thornley said.
As a result, LookSmart expects to earn more money. That's because many of its paid inclusion URLs are sold on a cost-per-click basis. Any time these are placed in front of users, LookSmart increases the chance that it will make money off of them.
Of course, LookSmart's already taken efforts to make this happen in the past. Of all search engines with a paid inclusion program, LookSmart is the only one to give its paid inclusion URLs a boost. Given this, why does it really need WiseNut's technology? Surely just boosting all of its paid URLs ought to be enough, if the definition of "relevance" means promoting paid URLs as often as possible, when they are a possible match to a query.
The answer seems to be that such boosting doesn't always help the user's expectation of relevance, which is getting the right answer, regardless of whether LookSmart makes money off the listing.
"Weve experimented with a bunch of boosting," said Thornley. "Some of it has shown good results and some of it hasnt."
Instead, Thornley sees LookSmart's ultimate solution in selling so much of the directory that it is inevitable that monetized URLs will appear in the results, assuming they are also considered relevant by more traditional measures for a query.
"The more you get paid links into the database, the more you arent having to worry whether the paid links are getting boosted," Thornley said. "Thats our vision for the long term of search targeted marketing."
And how much should be sold? Thornley says that 40 percent of queries are for products and services, so LookSmart aims to ultimately have 40 percent of its directory listings sold. In contrast, Ask Jeeves recently said it expects to sell about 10 percent of the listings in its Teoma crawler, while FAST expects to eventually sell 3 percent of its listings. Inktomi has never revealed how many of its listings are sold through paid inclusion. As for Google, the answer is easy -- it doesn't sell any of its crawler-based listings. Google instead runs ad listings alongside its crawler-based results.
As for the WiseNut site, it appears that it will be maintained as a standalone "showcase" site for the immediate future. Thornley said that efforts will be made in the near future to refresh the WiseNut index more frequently, which has been the crawler's big weakness, to date.
I also expect to be revisiting how the WiseNut site operates, in the near future. However, keep in mind that historically, things change rapidly when services are sold. Given this, I wouldn't advise being too worried about WiseNut just yet. If you already follow the general advice for doing well with Google (see the How Google Works page below), you'll likely find you are suited to get listed and perform well with WiseNut.
WiseNut Submit Page
Submit your site to WiseNut here.
Wisenut, the Google Killer? Nah...
SearchDay, September 5, 2001
Chris Sherman did Search Engine Watch's last look at WiseNut. At the time, WiseNut wasn't seen as trying to seriously take on Google because it was aiming to primarily power enterprise search. LookSmart says those plans are now dead, and LookSmart would indeed love to topple Google if it can.
How Google Works
An example of how an ISP makes use of LookSmart's results can be seen here.
LookSmart to Buy WiseNut
InternetNews.com, March 12, 2002
LookSmart is to acquire WiseNut through an all-stock deal valued at $9.25 million, when this article was written.