Former search giant Lycos is planning a new search product for launch in 2013. While exact details as to what the product will actually offer are currently scant, CEO Rob Balazy has told The Next Web that it will offer content on the page itself without having to click off to pages in individual search results.
Lycos was a big name in search in the late 1990s. Along with the likes of Yahoo, Alta Vista and HotBot, it competed for our clicks as we browsed the Web, which itself was less than ten years old. When Google came along, quickly dominating the search market in many countries, names like Lycos slipped from the mass public consciousness. However, the company, complete with its canine logo, is still going strong, having been acquired by India-based digital marketing firm Ybrant Digital in 2010.
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Currently, Lycos’ search engine (seen in the screenshot below) is provided via a deal with Yahoo. However, 2013 will see a change, says Balazy.
“In the coming year you will see us introduce a new proprietary search product. I don’t want to say too much about it as it’s still in the planning stage but we have a vision to merge the notion of a search-type activity with a curated content experience.”
The idea of offering information related to your search results is hardly new – Google has been doing this for some time, for example. However, Balazy sees a gap in the market for Lycos’ approach.
“We think the benefit to the consumer is huge. It removes the process of trial and error from clicking on search results and hitting ‘Back’ in the browser.”
No matter how unique Lycos’ solution turns out to be, the idea of Lycos getting back into the search game is a big deal. Is the company looking to tackle Google head on?
“I don’t think that we aspire to take on Google,” says Balazy. “Google’s big push has been to index the entire Web and be the definitive ‘Library of Congress for the Web’. We’ll focus more on the head terms, the search queries that are important and matter to people and really focus on the presentation layer, making the user experience really intuitive, really beautiful and take the same data-driving approach we’re doing with our homepage.”
So, what is Lycos these days?
I decided to speak to Lycos after recently receiving a PR pitch for its first iOS game, word-based guessing game Evincible. Balazy was brought in as CEO in April this year, having previously been CEO at semantic Web startup Inform Technologies. So, what does Balazy – whose CV also includes an earlier stint at Lycos in a business development role in 2003 and 2004 – preside over?
Visit Lycos.com and it’s easy to think of it as an old-style portal play – and one-stop shop for users wanting quick access to news and a weather forecast along with a range of complementary services designed to enhance their online experience. Back in the 90s, portals were all the rage but they’ve fallen out of fashion in recent years, so who exactly is Lycos targeting?
“Our users continue to be mass market consumer Internet users. We have a big US presence and are pushing into localizing for UK, Germany, Japan and Australia. Throughout 2012 we’ve had significant momentum in each of those so I’m really pleased with that,” says Balazy.
“We want to the be the first place people think of when they want to do a search, or look for content or interact with the friends, business partners, peers and family. In that sense, I don’t think that the strategy has changed. I think that the way that we go about fulfilling that missions statement is evolving as the Web use-case evolves.”
So, Lycos is unashamedly a 21st Century take on the Web portal. Balazy says that the current iteration of its design is around two months old and that its development is based on an Agile, data-informed and iterative approach. “It’s an app-like homepage, visually familiar to people in 2012.”
Lycos is a multi-headed beast. Visit its homepage, and in addition to a search box, you’ll find links to its other properties, like its Java, Flash and iOS-based games, its email service and its publishing tools – most notably Tripod, a name that will ring bells with anyone who built their own website back in the late 1990s.
When the Tripod came
Back in its heyday, Tripod and its rival Geocities offered easy website-building tools and hosting services for the masses.
While Geocities has since kicked the bucket, and newer tools such as Microsoft Frontpage and Squarespace have attracted users with their own website-building offerings, Tripod lives on, accompanied by a newer Lycos service called Zeeblio.
Balazy says that Tripod is still “doing really well,” with over 15 years’ worth of content and 10s of millions of pages indexed by Google. “It’s the little engine that keeps on chugging, in the sense that we keep signing up new users every day without making a push on the marketing side.”
Balazy says that Tripod has a dedicated team of around 15 people solely focused on adding new functionality and templates to Tripod. “It’s been a very successful business for many years and want to continue that. We’re investing in the tools and we want to position our web publishing businesses as one of the premier places to build and a website if you want share photos or whatever on the Web.”
While search and publishing seem like a natural fit, gaming seems a little more of an unexpected addition to Lycos’ offering. So, as Balazy sees it, what is Lycos in 2012?
“In a sentence, we’re a publisher, in a sense that we create content and a lot of that content is embodied in our game business. We’re an enabler of publishing in a sense that Tripod and Angelfire, and more recently Zeeblio are tools for users to generate content and then we’re an organiser of content across the Web, so I don’t think that our core mission has changed a lot. I think what we’ve done over the last year or so is to really focus on the things we think we can win at.”
How well is Lycos really doing?
While Balazy is happy to talk about Lycos’ products, he’s not as forthcoming when it comes to discussing where the company’s revenues come from. After our chat, he provided the following statement:
“On top of the traditional search portal, Lycos offers some paid premium services and products alongside free, advertising-supported content and entertainment, in a variety of formats ranging from display standard sizes to video and special sponsorships. The way this is laid out varies per region and per product, and is part of our long term strategy.”
Similarly, Balazy won’t share any specific numbers regarding how many people are using Lycos, simply saying in his statement, “We don’t have an update to share at this time. We are very happy with the trajectory of our user growth and we will of course update you as soon as we have news to announce in this area.”
While the tech press likes to constantly move on to the next big thing, seemingly irrelevant names like Lycos keep quietly chugging along as apparently viable businesses. Under relatively new ownership, Lycos seems keen to make that push back to mainstream relevance in 2013, and we’ll be keeping an eye on its new search product to see how it fares.