Three's Company: LookSmart and Snap Challenge Yahoo
Yahoo, unlike its chief competitors, is powered by human beings. A staff of 80 people reviews web sites and places them into one of Yahoo's many categories. This has produced a high-quality directory of over 750,000 sites, which is a key part of Yahoo's phenomenal success.
Now Yahoo has company: LookSmart and Snap. Both are human-powered directories with substantial listings and alliances that put them in contention to win the hearts of directory lovers.
Neither service expects to match Yahoo's incredible popularity, but they are optimistic they can attract sizable numbers of visitors to become web successes in their own rights.
LookSmart isn't new, having launched back in Oct. 1996. But unlike other directory startups at that time, it continued to expand and mature. LookSmart now lists nearly 400,000 web sites in 20,000 categories. A team of 30 people backs the directory.
LookSmart has alliances with over 100 mid-sized ISPs, and the partnerships it struck earlier this year with AltaVista and HotBot brought it to even more people's attention. Now it's taking over the premier partner position that Yahoo has abandoned on the important Netscape Net Search page. The move will even further raise awareness of the service.
Some may still remember LookSmart as Reader's Digest's entry in the search engine wars, but that ended with a management buyout last September.
Cnet's Snap service is newer. It launched in Sept. 1997, but it was completely redesigned in April to better emphasize its search and navigation core. Snap has about 200,000 web sites listed, with 60 people dedicated to building the service.
Like LookSmart, Snap has gone after alliances with ISPs to be a front-end to the web for their customers. It is also promoted through Cnet's other properties and occupies secondary positions on both the Netscape and Microsoft search pages. As with LookSmart, these alliances mean that the service is coming to more people's attention.
What about Search.com, Cnet's other search service? That's run by a separate division within Cnet and will continue to provide a different service than Snap. "We're a portal, and they're kind of a unique specialty service," said Sam Parker, Snap's Vice President of Product Development.
The growth of both LookSmart and Snap is good news for those who like directories. It means that Yahoo will have to stay on its toes editorially, for one. Reviews of search engines often don't include Yahoo because as a directory, it's difficult to compare it to true search engines. Now we're at a point where a decent directory showdown is possible in the way search engine showdowns have been done in the past.
Also, choice is always nice. Search services are like shoes, and what fits one person may not be comfortable for another. The way results are ranked; the quality of listings and even the interface to the service may be loved by one person but hated by another.
There have been plenty of options in the search engine category, and now those who prefer directories can look around or choose to use multiple services, just as many use multiple search engines.
If the directories above are overwhelming, try this extremely selective directory of about 1,500 sites, compiled by library professionals. Each site is rated in one of five categories and also given an overall score.
LookSmart enters search game
News.com, May 22, 1998
Reorganized C|net Makes Ambitious Bet on Snap Site
Internet World, May 11, 1998