Whatever happened to the Lycos lads?
The process of verbification (or verbing) only happens occasionally. Hoovering, Tasering and Photoshopping are three examples of verbs created from a proprietary brand name when it became a market leader. We can also add Google to this exclusive list, but why do we talk about Googling something rather than Lycosing or Infoseeking it?
Younger readers might find it hard to believe, but Google wasn’t always the all-conquering font of knowledge it is today. In the internet’s early days, a significant number of search engines were competing for market share. Some (such as AOL and Yahoo!) used homepage search functionalities as an additional tool for customers who had logged on to access their email or browse the web. Others, including Excite and WebCrawler, were pure search engines.
Search engines provided an early method of cataloging the numerous websites that were popping up around the world. The first few engines were effectively just database searching tools, and it was 1993 before Wandex began trawling the web looking for indexed pages. Within a year, WebCrawler was going beyond page titles and scanning all the HTML text on each page, representing the first time someone could enter a search term and view a list of indexed results from the World Wide Web.
Although other search engines had been founded before WebCrawler, they weren’t as quick to go live, or be as effective when they did. Excite is a classic case study, created in early 1993 and destined to purchase WebCrawler three years later. Unfortunately, a series of ill-advised mergers and partnerships led to bankruptcy and an eventual sale to Ask Jeeves – one of the few search engines still in existence under the moniker of Ask.com. Excite is also still active, albeit under the management of Dogpile. A similar fate has befallen MSN – a former search engine staple now rebranded by parent company Microsoft as Bing.
Remarkably, Yahoo’s directory of websites was paid for until 2002, when it became a conventional web crawling directory. Today, Yahoo is part of Microsoft’s vast empire and shares its results and backroom functionality with Bing, collectively providing the only search engine that can truly compete with Google’s market dominance. The Yahoo-Bing partnership has certainly fared better than ill-fated takeovers such as Netscape-powering platform Infoseek’s acquisition by Disney, which subsequently led to an aborted employee buyout and the disappearance of the Infoseek brand.
Similarly Altavista’s proud lineage was ended after a buyout by Overture, who were almost immediately purchased by Yahoo and assimilated into their new parent organization. This also killed off the admired Babel Fish translation service which had been one of Altavista’s greatest merits and distinguishing features. Other search engines were also acquired by Yahoo during this period of frenzied consolidation, including Inktomi and AllTheWeb. The swathe of mergers and acquisitions in the early 2000s led to many niche or country-specific engines disappearing or being rebranded.
And what of Lycos, the search engine that provided this blog’s headline? The Lycos.com website still exists, although it’s now more an online media source (although a limited search feature is still included). Searches generate a limited number of relevant results, and timeouts are frequent in all web browsers. It’s a sad decline for a site that led the world in terms of indexing and visitor numbers in the late 1990s. The acquisition of web page hosting service Tripod led to a $5.4 billion purchase by Spain’s Telefonica in 2000, shortly before the dotcom crash effectively destroyed Lycos as a brand. You can read all about this sad demise, but only if you Google it…