AOL bought Netscape -- is there anyone who still hasn't heard? I'm stepping back from this one, because there is plenty to read in other places. When the dust settles, I'll jump back in and report on the actual changes that take place as they relate to search and navigation.
I will make a comment regarding the consolidation issue that's everywhere. At the end of 1996, top executives at the major search engines -- and many analysts -- all agreed that by the end of 1997, we'd see a consolidation in the industry. The mentality was very much that you can only have Coke or Pepsi -- not a variety of choices.
As 1998 closes, there are more search and navigation sites than ever before. Yes, newcomers such as GoTo and Snap lack the traffic of the major players like Yahoo, Excite, Infoseek and Lycos. Those companies benefited from having been first movers on the web, and for having a core product that everyone needed: search.
I think search is going to remain a product in demand, and that's why these new sites will survive and even more may appear. Search services are like shoes. What fits one person perfectly may not be good for someone else. People also own different pairs. There's room for many pairs on the shelf -- or many search services on the web.
Of course, I don't expect these new sites to suddenly have the traffic the major search players command, traffic that has turned them into "portals" that route millions of people to destinations on the web. But I also think it's foolish to think we may have a few major sites that control what we visit, in the way we have tended to have major television networks that control what we see.
The web is not television. It is a completely new medium, and despite its fast and incredible growth, things are far from set in stone. Big money in the form of AOL, Microsoft and others will have an impact in making big sites that stand above others and which influence where we go. But it's cheap for anyone to publish on the web, a key difference from other media. And good content attracts: just ask the people at NASA.
I think at the end of 1999, people will still be watching for the consolidation in portal sites in the same way they have been with search sites. I doubt it will come. I could be wrong, but by then the Millenium Bug will have plunged the world into such turmoil that no one will remember.
Below are news roundups on the AOL-Netscape story and two particularly interesting articles:
Wired News: AOL Eats Netscape
News.com: The making of the Netscape buyout
ZDNet News Special Report: AOL To Merge With Netscape
The birth of an Internet network?
Salon, Dec. 1, 1998
Scott Rosenberg writes convincingly that the merger is not the death of the Internet, of independent web sites, or the creation of a mega site that will rule all. I couldn't agree more.
Netcenter partners react to buyout
News.com, Nov. 24, 1998
A good round-up of what major search sites think of the deal. In short: we're not scared.