Overture Takes FAST Track With AltaVista Search


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Building upon its leadership position as a pay-for-performance search engine, Overture Services, Inc. will acquire both the Web search unit of Norway's FAST Search & Transfer, a developer of search and real-time filtering technologies, and California's AltaVista Company, a pioneer in Web search technology and the oldest crawler-based search engine.

Once known as GoTo, Overture started out as a "paid placement" service in 1998 where sites were ranked in order according to how much they paid for positioning. Eventually, the company stopped directing consumers to its own Web site and developed a network model; it now provides paid listings to other sites such as Yahoo! and MSN. Though in 2002, Overture lost partnerships with Earthlink and AOL when Google became their sole provider of both paid and editorial search results.

The acquisitions of FAST and AltaVista are intended to fuel Overture's vision to create what it sees as a "next generation" search engine. The acquisitions should also enable the company to become more competitive by offering an editorial and paid listing product to potential partners who are interested in a comprehensive "all-in-one" solution.

"Search is in a rapid growth phase, which we believe will continue for years to come," says Overture president and CFO Ted Meisel. "Offering a broader, more complete range of products and services to our distribution network and advertisers will allow us to capitalize on that growth and build on the strong competitive advantages we already possess. Combining AltaVista and FAST's Web search business provides us with what we believe is the quickest and most cost-effective path to market."

Overture plans to use the AltaVista and FAST Web sites as testing grounds for developing and refining its products and services in "live" settings. It will use FAST's technology showcase site, AlltheWeb.com, to test and experiment with advanced approaches in search, as well as the AltaVista.com site, which operates on a larger scale, to refine its implementations of new products and improve presentation to users.

Consolidation and enhancement are key components of the search engine evolution, with businesses vying to develop the most versatile capabilities in order to provide users with the most accurate information they are searching for. Take Yahoo!'s purchase of Inktomi, one of AltaVista's crawler rivals, for example. Yahoo!, which gained popularity as a "directory" by using human editors to organize Web sites into categories, now uses Google's crawler-based listings to enhance its human capabilities.

To continue developing its next generation Web search plans, Overture has named Dr. Gary Flake as its chief science officer to lead the company's research and development team. Flake is considered to be one of the industry's leading experts in efficient algorithmic design, Web datamining and Web community analysis. "Even the best search technologies in existence today only return exactly what an Internet user is looking for about half of the time," Flake says. "The combination of AltaVista and FAST will allow us to develop the best and most comprehensive search products and services with the goal of delivering the most relevant results to users every time a search is conducted."

(www.altavista.com; www.fastsearch.com; www.overture.com)