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Hot on the Web

A tale of two search engines

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on March 14, 2003
(Issue 2111, The Story Teller)

Google and AltaVista – the current reigning king and the old grizzled champ – were both in the news this February.

AltaVista – once the king of the search engines – was sold off to new owners. Again.

Google, on the other hand, is in a buying mood.

AltaVista – started by a group of engineers at Digital Equipment Corp. as a way of showing off the power of DEC's servers – was bought for $2.4 billion just five years ago.

At the time, AltaVista had displaced early search engine leaders Bigfoot, Netscape and Lycos to become the dominant search engine. In the late 1990s, AltaVista rivaled Yahoo as the site with the most visitors each day – claiming 65 million users each month.

In the years since, of course, Google came out of nowhere (okay, Stanford, actually ...) to become the monolithic search engine of choice. DEC was taken over by Compaq, which was then purchased by Hewlett-Packard.

And so in February of this year, AltaVista fetched only $140 million when sold to Overture, a marketing firm.

Of course, when we're tossing phrases like "only $140 million" around, it tells you that even a has-been second-rate search portal still carries a ton of weight in our new economy.

Google expanding?

Google, which began life in a Stanford dorm room in '95, has become to search engines what Microsoft is to PC software.

Interestingly, Google now seems interested in perhaps becoming the Microsoft of PC software as well.

Or at least of blogging software.

The same week AltaVista was being sold off yet again, Google was buying Pyra Software, publisher of the "Blogger" software program.

What's "Blogger"?

It's a program that gives you a WYSIWYG interface for your Web log, or weblog, or blog. It allows anyone with an Internet connection, Web host and even just a few minutes a day the ability to have their own blog.

A blog, if you've missed our earlier columns on the subject, is like your own personal newspaper opinion page – only instead of some stuffy Washington Post or New York Times editorial writer issuing imperial opinions from above, blogs feature the opinions of the folks publishing them.

Hundreds of thousands of them. Heck, maybe millions by now.

The point is, blogs are spreading through cyberspace the way that the then-new phenomenon known as e-mail did some 35 years ago. Within a few months of the first e-mail protocol and client being written for sending messages over the ARPANET in the late 1960s, it accounted for more traffic packets than any other use.

And so, with hundreds of millions of people – perhaps as many as a billion – now being online, you can see that there's a growth curve on blogging that's unlikely to flatten anytime soon.

Especially if "Blogger" is going to be linked off of Google, the No. 1 site on the Web. And if Google decides to add a new Blogging category to its present search categories of Web, Images, Directory, Groups and News, you can guess an even bigger bump in the number of those blogging will occur.

Other Google news

Nor is the Pyra/"Blogger" purchase Google's only development.

Google's shopping search engine, Froogle, is presently in beta testing, but already seems pretty darn usable at finding all kinds of stuff you might want to buy. It hits the auction sites, specialty sites and even major retail sites.

On the down side, the ratio of good info to bad isn't all that high. A lot of the links are to informational sites that aren't even selling anything, or not selling the item listed. And the info tends to get out of date rather quickly.

Must be why it's still in beta.