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The Internet

Overture Buys Fast Search 156

generic-man writes "Hot off the heels of buying Altavista, Overture today announced it would buy Fast Search. Fast Search, a Norwegian company which manages AllTheWeb.com, will get $70 million in cash with up to $30 million in performance bonuses over the next three years. The deal is expected to close by April."
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Overture Buys Fast Search

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  • Funny (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cyclist1200 ( 513080 )
    that I was just reading an article about how FAST came up with a lot of the things that geeks idolize Google for.
  • i wonder (Score:3, Funny)

    by egoff ( 636181 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @02:44PM (#5381036)
    if they realize the bubble already burst?
    • I dont think so. With the recent purchase of AltaVista (aka hasta la vista. ok, old joke...), Overture probably thought this market was just ripe full of opportunities.

      No money spends sweeter than VC money, apparently.

    • Re:i wonder (Score:5, Interesting)

      by chundo ( 587998 ) <jeremy@jonMOSCOWgsma.org minus city> on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @03:23PM (#5381355)
      Before Google was started it was assumed that internet search was either "a solved problem or not very interesting [msnbc.com]". Google proved them wrong; why is it inconceivable that another company could beat out Google now?

      You don't need a bubble to keep you afloat if you've got a useful product and a good business plan. The fact that the .com bubble has burst doesn't mean that everyone should stop exploring viable online business opportunities.

      -j
      • by Anonymous Coward
        That's ridiculous. Before google came along, internet search engines were one of the most highly contested, most speculative, and researched ventures. Billions were spent on the "internet search." Doctoral thesesises's were written. Lexical analysis gained practical experience. College kids became millionaires. The entire dotcom economy rose and fell with the search engine craze. You could name, in succession, your five favorite search engines in the order of their of rise and fall in favor. Yahoo is still a major brand name, almost as big as AOL or Amazon. Disney spent billions getting online with the acquisition (and subsequent destruction) of infoseek. They still use infoseek technology for some of the ten most valuable sites on the net: espn.com and many other sites (abcnews.com, disney.com)

        Until google came along, the internet search was the biggest undertaking since the space race.
    • Because unlike the bubble companies they understood the web is all about finding information - not "content" or entertainment.

      Hence banner advertising is a no-starter, because users are looking for information, and an irrelevant banner provides no extra information.

      But a relevant text advert which matches what someone is looking for has a good chance of being clicked on and creating business.

      In theory Overtures business model is actually better than Google's because it does not rely on technical advantage, but is based around auctioning adverts to the highest bidder + network effect: by offering more money to search portals from clicks than they would earn if the search portal set up their own pay-per-click.

      Overture would have dominated the industry very nicely if it had remained a level playing field, but Google came along and improved its search technology by an order of magnitude over the others.

      Now, Overtures business model is threatened by Google winning such a big percentage of the search market that its own portal customers combined cannot compete with Google. In this case no-one is prepared to pay high pay-per-clicks to Overture, and its competitive advantage from network effect starts to collapse.

      So Overture is unlikely to use FAST or Alta-Vista as part of its own pay-per-click engine, and is much more likely to try to improve the genuine search results of its portal customers by offering them FAST/AV (quite possibly for free).

      If users at for example MSN, instead of going over to Google to get good search results discover that the MSN search is good-enough (because its by FAST), then Overture will stem the threat and earn money from its pay-per-clicks at MSN.

      They're up against it though, because Google have such a good brand now, and even if FAST were to have some arguable technical advantage over Google , unless its an order of magnitude advantage, Google's brand will remain number one and take a lions share of the whole market indefinitely.

  • And Google is evil? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by The Bungi ( 221687 ) <thebungi@gmail.com> on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @02:45PM (#5381043) Homepage
    What was that article a few days ago saying that Google is evil because it does all sorts of nefarious things and represents a virtual monopoly in the search engine arena? Not that the arguments held any water, but I'm sure the person who wrote them is rethinking his "monopoly" accusations in light of this.
  • Really? (Score:4, Informative)

    by snack-a-lot ( 443111 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @02:46PM (#5381051)
    I hope they don't ruin it. A combination of Alltheweb.com and Google.com gets me pretty much all the wares I need, but oddly they rarely have the same sites.

    (If you constantly get rubbish links while searching for files, try including things like "Index of" in your search along with a likely filename. You tend to get 'raw' file listings.)
  • Who bought who? I've never heard of any these companies, save Altavista. Wonder where they get the money....
  • by friedegg ( 96310 ) <bryan.wrestlingdb@com> on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @02:47PM (#5381063) Homepage
    From News.com [com.com] and The Register [theregister.co.uk], plus a big discussion at WebmasterWorld [webmasterworld.com].
  • How nice (Score:5, Funny)

    by nob ( 244898 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @02:47PM (#5381065) Homepage
    That's nice of Overture to merge all these search engines into one, so Google only has one company to buy. It just makes it so much easier.
    • I should hope that the geezers who oversee these sort of buyouts would step in and tick them off if that was the case. Google is nice, but it would even better to have some very strong competition.

      But then the best thing about Google IMO is the 'Google Groups'. It's often more useful than websites due to less advertising - people don't try to stuff Groups searches to point to their newsgroup adverts.

      So .. I dunno.
      • But then the best thing about Google IMO is the 'Google Groups'. It's often more useful than websites due to less advertising - people don't try to stuff Groups searches to point to their newsgroup adverts.

        Never had a problem with their website search either. Google has become pretty good in detecting intentional "stuffing", and downgrades the relevant sites accordingly. Usually the top few matches that come up are pretty relevant to the query.

    • That's nice of Overture to merge all these search engines into one, so Google only has one company to buy. It just makes it so much easier.

      ... or the other way round!

      And once Overture has bought up all search engines that matter, they'll transform them into giant advertising portals...

  • I vaguely remember a web search engine that allowed the use of regular expressions, or maybe its just early alzheimers kicking in.
    • If by "regular" you mean English, askjeeves was one of the first. I think altavista liscensed their english language web searches.
    • Technically, entering a simple search term in a search engine is a regular expression in itself, albeit a simple one.

      Anything more would be pretty taxing on the server (especially with a monster like Google [google.com]) and would no doubt only be used by very few people (regular expressions aren't exactly your average joe-public's idea of fun).

      Would be interesting to see this implemented, though.
    • I vaguely remember a web search engine that allowed the use of regular expressions

      Regular expressions are available in a few kinds of web searching today:

      • Site-level searches (e.g. as provided by Microsoft IIS) often support regular expressions.
      • Search engines may allow filtering of result filenames by regular expressions (e.g. alltheweb.com).

      It's unlikely you'd find regular expressions for searching content in search engines due to the way they build their indexes. (Here's an overly simplistic example, but it gets the idea across: a simple engine might split a page into words then maintain a list of all pages that contain that word. Using hashing, it's fast to look up a particular word in the table, but to search for "w\w+d" {all words beginning with w and ending with d} could take so much longer as to be impractical; it might even be impossible depending on how they've built their lookup tables.)

      • While it definitely is faster *not* to have wildcards, remember that you are simply iterating down through entries in your dictionary. So it isn't that big a time delay. The danger is that with a lot of terms you may accidentally end up searching for a thousand terms. With the index size they have that could cause a delay. But realize that the time delay we are speaking of is rather small relative to humans. (At least based upon what I know of Google's indexing technology)

        The one thing you'd want to do is disallow wildcards at the beginning of a word. That would require going through *all* words in your index. But so long as you have the wildcards in the middle or end there really isn't that much of a problem. For effeciency I could see requiring at least 2-3 letters at the beginning of the word prior to allowing wildcards. But that's about it.

        The problem with most searching is that 90% of people using them just want simple queries. Yet those who want more accurate searching will do more advanced searching (i.e. wildcards, proximity, and so forth) Yet those are admittedly more expensive and more complex. But I personally think tha the advantages outweigh the disadvantages for the power user. I truly wish that Google, for instance, had more advanced query technology.

  • Quick, somebody start up a web search page. Get bought out for a ton of dough
    and retire.

    SealBeater
  • Wow! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SlashChick ( 544252 ) <erica@eri[ ]biz ['ca.' in gap]> on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @02:52PM (#5381105) Homepage Journal
    "For 2003, [Overture] now expects to see revenue of more than $1 billion and earnings per share of 60 cents to 70 cents. Analysts had been expecting the company to report earnings of 91 cents per share on revenue of $1.03 billion."

    Wow! Overture has better earnings per share than Microsoft! [businessweek.com] They've also beaten eBay [itworld.com], which is generally considered one of the most profitable Internet companies. Is pay-for-placement really so valuable that it creates a billion-dollar company? Can someone who understands this business model explain how it's making so much money?

    If Overture is truly an Internet-only success story, it bodes well for the rest of us who have jobs that rely on the Internet. More profitable companies mean that the Internet will be taken more seriously and that there will be more Internet jobs, which is always a good thing!
    • Earnings per share alone does not mean anything.

      I wholly own my company so it only has one share, and we're succesful so our EPS is several thousand times that of Microsoft. Does contain any information about our market cap? Nope.

      In related news, Overture is at their 52-week low today, directly as a result of their shopping spree.

      Investors feel that while buying one search engine might have made sense (Overture actually lost out on a number of large deals last year because they weren't able to provide algorithmic searches) but buying two is overkill. It does not serve the purpose of the first acquisition - namely to complete their product palette.
    • Re:Wow! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by stripmarkup ( 629598 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @03:39PM (#5381461) Homepage
      I used to work for a search engine company that was acquired by Yahoo and now I work for another one. Here's the deal:

      Most businesses need leads from the yellow pages and other standard means of advertising. The amount of business that they get from leads coming from search engines has been increasing steadily over the years. The problem is that nobody will find you in a search if your site has not been crawled, or if it appears beyond the third or fourth page in the results. There are Search Engine Optimization (SEO) companies that "optimize" your site for a fee so that it appears more relevant to search engines.

      Obviously, search engine companies don't like this and developed anti-spam techniques to block as much of it as possible. If you are running a serious business and $100/year or so guarantees a decent placement in a major search engine, it's definitely worth it. For bigger markets (porn, for example), businesses are willing to pay more to get an edge over their competitors. Look at the Yellow Pages (an extremely profitable business) for an older example of this model in action.
      • Re:Wow! (Score:4, Informative)

        by angle_slam ( 623817 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:26PM (#5381896)
        Obviously, search engine companies don't like this and developed anti-spam techniques to block as much of it as possible. If you are running a serious business and $100/year or so guarantees a decent placement in a major search engine, it's definitely worth it.

        It's a lot more than $100/year at Overture. I know someone who runs a web based business, and they spend $400 per DAY for good search engine placement with Google and Overture.

    • You are comparing quarterly EPS for Ebay ($0.21) and Microsoft ($0.47) to the full year forecast for Overture. Not exactly apples-to-apples.
  • investors beware (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gaph ( 537698 )
    i fear the worst for overture, or overlord as would be more fitting, because owning one search engine is difficult enough. it's not as if anyone can effectively compete with google in the first place. but so long as my babble fish doesn't go anywhere, i'll still visit altavista.
    • Re:investors beware (Score:2, Informative)

      by ziplux ( 261840 )
      but so long as my babble fish doesn't go anywhere, i'll still visit altavista

      google has the same thing, except ad-free:
      Google Language tools [google.com]
    • I would invest in Overture. As a previous post mentioned, they're making .91 in revenue per share, better than a lot of brick and mortor companies. They've survived the height of the bubble. Up until now, they have been paying Altavista to allow their ads for placement in the search engine, now that money goes in their own pocket. With the purchase of a more sophisticated search engine company, they could really have something going as far as long term money making. Whether it will take a lot of people from Google, probably not, at least in the near future. Even good search engines like Teoma haven't done that, but they had been making money from Altavista, so improving that engine can only help things.

      This could actually be a good Tech investment.
    • i too love babel fish, but mainly because the translations are so horrible.... let us play, fun witht the fish....

      you sir, are covered in chocolate. i hope you plan on showering >>>>italian>>>>english>>>>getlteman , you are covered in chocolate. I hope program to them on overflowing

      notice the spelling of gentleman,,,, the fish did that....... .... and that is why I actually buy translators that are designered for specific languages....

      now, you have fun with the phrase "If i had a dime for every dime that i found, i would have twice as many dimes" you can get some fun results..
  • ...makes me wodner why the hell I should care.

    There never has been a serious challenger to Google and there never will be -- I'm on the East Coast and I can hardly breathe from the vacuum of the hard computer science brain drain...
    • There never has been a serious challenger to Google and there never will be

      This is short-sited. Given the number of times people in the computer industry have lived to regret such wide-sweeping, bold comments, yours may be considered a rather ignorant thing to say.

      -1 Flamebait

  • Does this mean that we're going to see the rise of "Sponsored Listings" in AllTheWeb? Just when i was starting to like their service (when Google didn't give me the answers I want), Overture has to come along and shit it up. I don't mind pay-for-results when thet're clarly indicated a la Google, with a big spanking coloured box around them, but for if I'm going to use AllTheWeb/Overture now, I like it to be clear when I'm participating in their version of 'Payola'...funny thing - when I serach for 'Payola,' the only "Sponsored Listing" is from, of all places, Amazon - the kings of 'Payola.'
    • They already sell placement on many sites [marketguide.com], including Alta Vista, AOL, Excite.com, go.com, iWon, Terra Lycos, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, InfoSpace (including MetaCrawler and Dogpile). Also Internet Explorer and Netscape's browser.
    • AllTheWeb has always had paid listings. They are labeled "Sponsored Results." My thoughts on the issue: http://www.edwardbear.org/blog/archives/000071.htm l
    • You think sponsored listings are only clearly indicated on Google? I've never had a problem differentiating sponsored listings from neutral results.

      Carl

  • From the article, it seems like Overture wants to buy out search engines so that they can sell placement.

    Now that we know where their results come from, won't we steer clear?

    They could have at least pretended to return relevant results.
    • by artemis67 ( 93453 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @03:24PM (#5381362)
      I take it you've never looked at Overture.

      Yes, Overture sells paid listings, not relevance, although they do at least check out your site to make sure that the keywords you are registering are germain to your site's content.

      Registering with Overture is smart because Overture influences other search engines. Alta Vista has long had a deal with them to take the top three Overture listings and place them above Alta Vista's own results. Even the mighty Google is influenced by Overture.

      For example, before my company registered keywords on Overture, we couldn't be found on Google unless you search specifically on our name. Today, there is at least one keyword category where we have the top spot on Google (keywords we registered on Overture), and a number of others where we at least show up in the list.

      For businesses that are frustrated with the search engine games, Overture is probably the easiest way to influence them.
  • by LiftOp ( 637065 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @02:56PM (#5381143) Homepage
    I mean, no one said it's for sale, but if you buy all the little companies that are running distant second to Google, and put them together, don't you get one big company that's running second as well?

    I mean, if I want the Ferrari, and I've got the dough, I don't get six or seven Chevys and consider myself the coolest kid on the block.

    • Because Overture's ~$900m market cap comes nowhere near the sum you'd need to pay for Google.

      Besides, Google being a private company, the owners can decide whether or not to sell - and they aren't selling. They are most likely waiting for a better economic climate to do their IPO.
      • Remember, one does an IPO because one needs money to expand.

        Google is profitable, and doesn't really need tons of money to do anything at the moment. They also have an excellent future. I don't see them getting less important at all. If I were one of the Google owners, I don't think I *would* do an IPO. I'd hang onto my ownership of the company.
        • by Marton ( 24416 )
          Not all businesspeople think like that. Erm, maybe no businessperson thinks like that.

          What you say might have been true. Traditionally.

          Google might be profitable, and an owner could rake in, say, $1m per year - but that's not going to get him a 200-foot yacht.

          If you take the company public, you can easily and instantly sell some or all of your shares on the market, then retire early with hundreds of millions in the bank.

          That's the #1 reason people do IPOs, and that's the reason Google will go public once the US economy is in better shape.

        • Remember that it's not really completely up to them. The VCs and other investors that have funded Google's growth over the years are waiting for a liquidity event, which is going to be an IPO. VCs don't pour money into a company without making sure they can get a return.
    • ...if you buy all the little companies that are running distant second to Google, and put them together...

      Put them together how?

      I'd imagine the work required to analyze the millions of lines of code that make up each search engine that Overture now owns, and then integrate all of them into one SOOPER-search engine, is going to end up being more difficult and taking longer than it would to write a fresh search engine from scratch.

      My guess is Overture doesn't know what they're doing.
    • if you buy all the little companies that are running distant second to Google, and put them together, don't you get one big company that's running second as well?

      When paying for advertising what is important is how many people see the advertising. You say Google is first and the others are running second. Can you back this claim?, and if all the others merged will Google still be first?. I don't think so. I much rather pay Overture since it seems it will get my ad to a broader audience than Google. But since many advertisers actually pay Google AND Overture it doesn't matter anyway.
  • by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @02:58PM (#5381162) Journal
    I just tried a few searches at Overture [overture.com], and every one stacked what looked like product placements at the top of the responses. And in fact this notice [overture.com] introduced the results pages.

    It looks as though they're buying the underperforming search sites for their paid customer lists, which they offer to other search sites that take placement graft.

    They're not a search technology company. They're a search-result astroturf company. Their business model is selling ad space camouflaged as content.

    The internet is not secure as either a medium or a message.
    • They're not quite that evil. Their model is really just selling advertising through affiliate sites, a bit like Doubleclick. The difference is that Overture's ads are indexed to specific terms, exactly like Google's text-ads. Honest sites will clearly mark the ads from Overture as advertisements (again, like Google does with text ads), just as they won't try to pretend that a banner from Doubleclick is actually some kind of editorial content.

      Now, Overture is still bad. (So is Doubleclick!) I think it can legitimately be criticized for abusing the patent system in its suit against Google.
    • Let me be devil's advocate for a moment.

      Overture have a particular idea for a search algorithm:
      those that pay the most for a search term are most likely to have a useful search result. (The logic becomes clearer if you define "useful" as "something you are willing to pay for").

      It's not entirely stupid. And nobody is going to buy the search words for "P=NP", so it'll just use plain old search technology for that.

      I still use google though.
    • Their business model is selling ad space camouflaged as content.

      overture.com is not a regular search engine. It is ONLY sponsored matches! You should really only go there if you want to buy something. Think of it as a big yellow pages. If you want to search for "velocity of unladen swallow" DO NOT go to overture.com. Would you look up a history of bathrooms in the yellow pages? Of course not, but you would look up services to remodel your bathroom. Their content is not camouflaged at all, just as the overture listings returned by Yahoo are labeled "sponsored matches". Would you call that camouflaged?

      Overture's not hiding or camouflaging anything. As someone else put it, Overture is just a 21st-century yellow pages company.

      Carl

    • I hear the sound of someone who has never used FAST FTPSearch. FAST developed a *superb* FTP search engine that was simply amazing (their current incarnation of it seems to be greatly lacking in the advanced features that it used to have).
  • Overture vs. Yahoo (Score:4, Informative)

    by JakiChan ( 141719 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @03:25PM (#5381371)
    One interesting thing to note: Overture was one of the big customers of Inktomi search. Inktomi was making a lot of money from Overture's business. Plenty of folks thought that they would probably buy Inktomi since Inktomi was dying.

    However, Yahoo ended up with Inktomi. So clearly Overture, a company who made money mainly because they didn't own much hardware - they were marketing and sales - now found their search engine owned by another company. Overture may be buying up search engines to avoid the fact that Yahoo doesn't need to let them do business with the organization formerly known as Inktomi, especially since Yahoo is an Overture customer.
    • What does this mean? Yahoo buying Inktomi was good, or bad for Overture? "Overture may be buying up search engines to avoid the fact that Yahoo doesn't need to let them do business with the organization formerly known as Inktomi, especially since Yahoo is an Overture customer."
  • Potential (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mao che minh ( 611166 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @03:26PM (#5381377) Journal
    The underlying importance of these recent moves is that a major financial holder who possess a cunning internet prescence is buying up search engines. Google rules now, but if Yahoo or Overture throws enough money at something else, then "it" just might become a contender in the coming months. Frankly, I think that they still have a lot of catching up to do. I find some of the most remarkable pictures of Jessica Alba and Brintey Spears in 3 seconds of searching on images.google.com - thumbnails and all. Thousands of them. I don't know how Altavista can ever concieve of contending with that.
    • Uhmmmm, images.altavista.com.... or www.alltheweb.com/?cat=img.... better than google a lot of the time. Google rules web results right now, but it has only been the leader for two-three years (since yahoo signed them on). This is a very short time. How many years was it that Digital VAX ruled the corporate mainframes? And where are they now. The search game is just getting interesting. Remember when google didn't have any advertising on their pages? Wait till they go public, they start throwing up more ads. I agree that Yahoo, or Overture-Alltheweb, or Microsoft + (add purchased company here) could all give google a run in the coming years (not months).
  • by GGardner ( 97375 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @03:32PM (#5381416)
    Let's ignore, for the moment, the quality of any of the search engines. When I awkgle through the web logs at my company, more than 99% of all the hits from a search engine come from google. There's no evident second place finisher in this race -- There's Google at number one, and then a whole bunch of noise. Now, we don't advertise on Overture (or google, either). What do others see?
  • by mog ( 22706 ) <alexmchale@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @03:34PM (#5381429)
    One company that I've never heard of bought another company that I've never heard. Wahoo!
  • by frankie ( 91710 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @03:35PM (#5381439) Journal
    Overture is a pay-for-placement system. It's comparable to the Google AdWords results rather than the actual Google search.

    Now for the fun part. Every time you click an Overture result, you cause the advertiser to pay Overture. As mentioned at SpamBattle [spambattle.com], this is a great way to screw companies that sell spam software or services:

    Use the /. effect to bankrupt spammers!

    • I am proud to say I just did my part in making the world a MUCH better place.
    • Now for the fun part. Every time you click an Overture result, you cause the advertiser to pay Overture. As mentioned at SpamBattle [spambattle.com], this is a great way to screw companies that sell spam software or services...

      I've been thinking about this for a while. They do checking so that you can't just keep clicking the link and costing the company more money.

      While the slashdot effect would be good for a few URL's, it wouldn't be pervasive enough. It sounds to me like the perfect opportunity for a distributed client. Maybe something like SETI@Home that would trawl through results for undesirables and "click-through".

      Actually, I'm hoping this gets modded up and some script kiddie puts it in the next version of Nimda/CodeRed/Slammer/Whatever.

      • Yeah, but every one of the dollars from the "undesirables" goes to Overture. How desirable is that? This would just be arming them for their inevitable great Crusade to bring "civilization" to Google.
    • Overture has abuse detectors on this to prevent robots from slamming their advertisers
      - you can hit them all once, but they do give you cookies, and I think they look at REFERER, so you want to enter those addresses in your browser yourself instead of clicking the link. If you want to hit them a few times, accept the cookies and clear them out in between.
  • by alaric187 ( 633477 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @03:35PM (#5381440)
    But do they have the advanced pigeon technology of Google [google.com] yet?


    I think not.
  • Does this mean (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tarquin_fim_bim ( 649994 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2003 @04:02PM (#5381684)
    In the longer term the trend will be that as well as having to sort through the normal dross thrown up by search engines, you will also have to swim through a pages stagnated by dodgy companies paying for the privilege to force their unwanted products onto your screen?

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