There is nothing new under the sun…turn, turn, turn

In which I apply the wisdom of 1998 to an old Salon article

On Thursday, Walter Hawn shared a December 1998 article from salon.com talking about a new search engine. The author, Scott Rosenberg, starts by declaring how unimpressed he is with the latest entry into the web wars:

I don’t know about you, but I simply cannot get excited about the much-ballyhooed arrival of Go.com — Disney’s new (and still “beta-testing”) entry in the portal wars. Just what the world needs: ANOTHER Web site that unites directory listings, news, weather, stock quotes, movie reviews, free e-mail, shopping and other online functions on one ugly-as-sin Web page — one that looks and behaves remarkably like its popular competitors.

At the time, those popular competitors included Excite, Lycos, AOL, MSN, and the big one, Yahoo. But Rosenberg speaks of a new entrant, one that just concentrates on making search better – Google.

As I continued to read the 1998 item that Hawn shared, it struck me how Google’s strategy was so unlike those of Yahoo, Disney, AOL, and the other leading firms. And I began to wonder – if I had been blogging in 1998 (I didn’t start blogging until 2003), how would I have reacted to the Salon article?

Bearing in mind the number of times that I’ve had to utter Jim Bakker’s “I was wrong” quote over the last 9+ years, I imagined that I would have written something like this (originally shared on Google+):

You’ll notice that there is no picture of this new search engine – with good reason.

While the author criticizes the “crowded, blinking arrays of commercial distractions” of the real portal sites, the fact remains that these home pages work. I can go to a site like Yahoo and immediately get to what I need.

I encourage you to go to the page of this new search engine that the author is all excited about. Yeah, go to it. THERE’S NOTHING THERE. It’s basically the name of the company, and a search box. I don’t care what algorithm those college guys are running under the hood – a web page that is so devoid of information is utterly useless.

Yahoo is much smarter about the whole thing. While the Salon article neglects to mention this, Yahoo is not just a manually-created catalog of websites. Yahoo also has a search engine under its hood called AltaVista, provided by the Digital Equipment Corporation. This, in my learned view, is the ideal way to go – let DEC worry about the search algorithms and stuff like that, while Yahoo takes care of the business end of things.

And if the rumors are true and if DEC is about to be purchased by Compaq, then AltaVista – and its partner Yahoo – will be unstoppable. It’s clear that Yahoo will continue to evolve, and will become the premier web destination of the 21st century.

Unless, of course, one of the other popular web destinations is able to overtake them – and America OnLine may very well do that. AOL is rapidly becoming a financial dynamo, and could very well be in the position to acquire a complementary company. Personally, I think that the most likely acquisition is Disney – not many companies can acquire a major media company, but AOL can. Imagine what would happen if all of those AOL subscribers were routed to the go.com domain!

But there are other candidates for an AOL acquisition. Take, for example, Time Warner – itself a huge conglomerate of everything from Ted Turner’s television stations to the WB Network to TIME magazine. Now marry that with the army of AOL subscribers, and you’ll have a true winner!

And meanwhile, this no-nothing from Salon is talking about something that’s only a search engine. Even if there weren’t these huge competitors like Yahoo/Altavista (Yahoo/Compaq?) and AOL (AOL/Disney?) who could easily crush this week startup, there is no way that a search engine is going to make any money.

This Google doesn’t stand a chance.

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