Search Engine History

Welcome To SearchEngineLand

From The Search Engine Report
Nov. 5, 1997

Excite stopped calling itself a search engine earlier this year. Instead, it has billed itself as an online service, similar to AOL. To back its claims, it quickly began adding non-search services, such as chat and free email. These were integrated into its directory listings, which themselves were organized into channels.

The goal was to create interesting places for people to hang out. Search engines are like the airports or train stations of the web. People go through them, but they don't stay for long.

Instead, Excite is trying to turn itself into a destination, rather than a transit point. In a way, it wants to be an online theme park. People can come to ShoppingLand, or EntertainmentLand, where they can talk to others online, participate in discussions or read news stories. Excite wants people to stay awhile, which gives them the ability to dish up more ads.

If Excite has become ExciteLand, then YahooLand, LycosLand and InfoseekLand aren't far behind. All three companies made moves in October putting them firmly on course toward the online service model that Excite has been pioneering.

Yahoo is no stranger to extra services. It has offered chat since January of this year, four months before Excite. Now it has added free email to its offerings. Discussion boards continue to be beta tested.

Lycos had more catching up to do. It did so in one swoop, adding chat, discussion areas and free email on the same day.

As for Infoseek, it remains without free email. But it has added chat and unveiled an attractive new channel structure (see story, below).

But just adding services is not enough to transform a search service into an online service. To attract and keep visitors, the extra services and other content need to be properly integrated to make a destination worth visiting.

Here is where Excite really shines. Its channels, introduced in April, pull all of its topically related options into central locations.

For example, a visit to the Entertainment channel offers news headlines, a summary of live chat and bulletin board topics, a local television schedule, movie listings and video releases, all on the same page. Far from being confusing, everything is organized in an easy-to-read fashion.

Web reviews are included, and way down at the bottom is a search box. Its position emphasizes that your visit is not about searching, then leaving Excite. Instead, you're intended to stay and participate.

In contrast, Yahoo's services live in their own worlds. They are easy to miss, tucked in a small font size under the search box. Nor are they integrated into the site.

For example, clicking on Entertainment brings up a standard Yahoo listing page. If you want to view headlines, you have to click to a new page. Chat discussions are not mentioned.

Lycos occupies a middle ground. It has organized its Top 5 reviews, headlines and other material into WebGuides. Now it has added links to its chat areas.

Infoseek is the newest of the search engines to dump the old search/directory structure and move toward a more content-organized channel format. Its implementation poses a real challenge to the model that Excite has fine-tuned.

It will be interesting to watch these search engines as they continue along the path toward destinations. A survey by NPD earlier this year found 95% of search engine users wanted services to provide quick and relevant search results. In contrast, only 56% to 69% said that it was important for a site to be interactive.

If channels are not the way to go, then AltaVista and HotBot may see an increase in usage, as they remain firmly search-centric. However, an entirely new audience may flock to the new search/online services.

Search engines battle over features
News.com, Oct. 8, 1997
http://www.news.com/News/Item/0,4,15014,00.html

A rundown on the latest deals to offer email, online retailing alliances and other deals search engines have made.

Lycos, Yahoo add free email in battle for users' loyalty
Ad Age, Oct. 1997
http://www.adage.com/interactive/articles/19971013/article4.html

Summary of new additions to Yahoo and Lycos, as they follow Excite's move into adding features to better become destinations, rather than transit points on the web.