09 June 2009

There once was a WebRing that escaped a giant.

I could fill pages with tales of sites that have been acquired and subsequently destroyed. Perhaps "destroyed" isn't the word -- sometimes web purchases are mainly done not for actual sites but for technology and people. From a web user's perspective (and that is the perspective I generally write from on this blog), though, services like Google's Dodgeball and AOL's XDrive have indeed been destroyed. They're no longer available to be used and enjoyed. It's almost as if they never existed at all in this crazy transient world we call the Internet, though Dodgeball fans should check out foursquare.

WebRing is an example of a rare happy story that can emerge when an acquisition goes wrong. A webring is basically a collection of related sites: you can think of it as a mini-directory that can be surfed not only at a centralized location but also at each site in the webring via a navigation bar. Years ago when I was starting out online webrings were pretty huge. They're much more obscure now, but just as useful -- I don't know of any other easier way to surf around the Web than to click on the "Next" link of a WebRing widget and it usually leads you to more relevant pages because webrings are human-edited. You can tell how big webrings once were by the fact that WebRing, the leading webring provider, was acquired by Yahoo! in 1999 as part of its purchase of GeoCities. By 2001, Yahoo! had lost interest in the site as they are wont to do. Normally, this would have pretty bad...disastrously bad you might say...as it is how acquired sites tend to meet their end. Rather than being catastrophic, however, Yahoo!'s abandonment of WebRing actually led to something good: an independent site run by one of the original site workers. Now Yahoo! doesn't own any part of WebRing -- it's a completely independent, privately owned site. I tend to think of it as a beacon of hope for all those who have had to watch their site fade away after being acquired. Sometimes, albeit rarely, there is life after a bad acquisition!

In addition to its core webring service, WebRing now also offers free webspace and free blog hosting. It is currently actively recruiting GeoCities users to move their pages there in light of Yahoo!'s recent decision to shutter GeoCities. You know, it might not be such a bad idea for someone to create a startup that just attempts to provide alternative services to sites that the giants kill. As WebRing's story illustrates, just because a giant loses interest in a site doesn't mean it doesn't have any life left.

01 June 2009

Did Microsoft really need to rebrand its search engine again?

I've said it before, I'll say it again: Microsoft is a search company, and a serious one at that! What the company from Redmond has shown repeatedly over the last couple of years is that it is committed to search and it is willing to put all the effort required to make a dent in Google's throne. Microsoft's latest move has been to rebrand its oft-rebranded search engine once again. What was Live Search yesterday is Bing today. While Bing is more than just a name change, I haven't decided yet if Live Search's flaws have even by addressed by Microsoft in this latest iteration of its search engine. My big beef with Live Search has long been that it doesn't index enough of the Web in comparison to Google and its top listings are not necessarily relevant. Google doesn't necessarily return the BEST results for any given query on the first page of search results -- I would say it frequently doesn't -- but the main key to its success has, in my view, been its penchant for delivering relevant results for most every query. Part of the reason Google stays so relevant is because it indexes so much of the Web. It can handle the long tail keywords searchers throw at it better than any other engine. I don't think Bing can selectively index the Web and compete...it needs to be able to go everywhere the Googlebot does.

While I wish Microsoft well in its web endeavors, I can't say too I was too excited when I heard about the Bing rebranding. I actually feel like Live Search was an excellent name, and I was quite fond of the Windows Live brand as well -- they both sound professional, contemporary, and fit well with Microsoft's image. Bing, on the other hand, doesn't sound like a Microsoft product at all...it could be that's one of the reasons they picked it. It sounds lighthearted and fun, but to me it would seem to fit a game site better than a search engine. That said, you could argue that Yahoo and Google have silly names as well. Perhaps Microsoft feels that this is no coincidence and has embraced silliness in an attempt to compete. I think the name might just grow on me, though -- I love that the Live Search Club has been rebranded Club Bing and been given the domain name "clubbing.com"! That made me laugh...maybe Microsoft really can do this whole lighthearted thing after all.

I'm honestly going to give Bing a good try. Now that Microsoft has taken this leap, I hope it, too, gives Bing a good try. At some point, the rebranding needs to stop so a lasting brand can be established itself. Personally, I probably would've kept Live Search and just worked on making it a better search engine, but I see no reason why Bing can't be a success.