Northern Light to Close Public Search Engine

Bon Voyage, Northern Light

Northern Light, the company that pioneered a number of innovative features for web searchers, is closing its search engine to the public on January 16th. Other services, such as news search and search alerts, as well as access to Northern Light's Special Collection will remain available to all users.

The company is eliminating its free search engine as part of an effort to concentrate its focus on enterprise customers. In addition to crawling and maintaining an index of more than 350 million web pages, Northern Light runs more than 100 custom Web-crawls for its enterprise customers. These customers will not be affected by the closure of the public web search engine.

"Over the past year, Northern Light has seen booming demand for search, classification, taxonomy, and content solutions from our enterprise customers and marketing partners," said David Seuss, CEO of Northern Light Technology. "Indeed, our sales bookings in the quarter ending in December 2001 were double the previous quarter."

Northern Light's closure of its public search engine is a reflection of the difficult nature of the business model for free, advertising-supported, public web search. Both Infoseek and Excite, two once prominent search engines, failed largely because advertising revenues weren't adequate to offset the enormous costs of operating a comprehensive crawler based search engine.

Unlike other search engines that rely on advertising as a primary source of revenue, however, the problem for Northern Light has been that the business model for free, advertising-supported Web search has not been a growth driver for the company.

"We had no decline in ad revenues -- we did the same as last year," said Seuss. "But its not about maintaining. We were doing OK, but couldn't find the business model for how to grow that at 20, 30, 40 percent a year, and the rest of our business is growing that fast."

What does this say about the business models of other major search engines? "I don't want to stand up and say that advertising doesn't work," said Northern Light's Seuss. "We have a high-end business audience. High-end users are on a mission -- they don't click on ads. We didn't really fail at advertising, we just couldn't figure out where to go with it," said Seuss.

Northern Light will continue to offer a variety of useful services to searchers. "We will keep the news search engine running," said Northern Light spokesperson Mylissa Tsai. "Public site visitors will still have access to search current news -- anything on our site under two weeks old will still be free."

Northern Light's news search index is updated every ninety seconds, with a rolling two-week archive of news stories.

Email search alerts will also remain available at no charge. Search alerts automatically send email notification when Northern Light's database is updated with news stories or Special Collection articles that match your search terms.

Northern Light's in-depth "Special Editions" will also remain freely available. Special Editions focus on timely events or issues, and are compiled by the company's team of librarians and information specialists. Special Editions combine relevant links from authoritative Web sites with free documents from Northern Light's online publication library.

For searchers, Northern Light's key benefit is now clearly its Special Collection, an online business library of over 70 million pages of full-text content from more than 7,100 sources. Unlike subscription-based content aggregators such as Dialog and LexisNexis, Northern Light makes documents from its special collection available on an individual basis, almost always for a nominal and affordable fee.

Closure of the public web search engine isn't the only change at Northern Light. On Monday, the company dropped its sponsorship of the Indy Racing League.

Northern Light

CIA Doesn't Spook Northern Light, January 8, 2002,1928,2001_950381,00.html

In-Q-Tel, the Central Intelligence Agency's independent, non-profit company funded by the U.S. Government, is teaming with Northern Light Technology, of Cambridge, Mass., to develop an advanced search system that will eliminate the need to manually sift through countless documents in a variety of languages.


Can't live without Northern Light web search? As an alternative, try Vivisimo, a metasearch engine that uses a dynamic categorization process similar to Northern Light's Custom Search Folders to organize results into related subject groups.

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.