Happy Birthday, Infoseek!

Once venerable Infoseek, a powerhouse search engine that achieved prominence during the mid 1990s, was launched eight years ago today.

1994 was an exciting time for web users. During this year, the first "search engines" for the web started to appear online. JumpStation, WorldWideWeb Worm, and Webcrawler all made their debuts, and their arrival was a boon for searchers.

Most early search engines were either research or personal projects, made freely available without thought of profit. Infoseek corporation had a different idea: It would create business for its "full text information retrieval service," and charge users for access.

In a post to the comp.lang.python newsgroup on July 18, 1994, InfoSeek's founder and CEO Steve Kirsch wrote:

"We are offering our service for free for a limited
time to a limited number of users on the net. I wanted
to give the people on this, our favorite newsgroup, an
opportunity to get an account before everyone else
finds out about it. We can only give out 5,000 free
accounts and they will probably go fast."

These free accounts did go quickly, but when Infoseek officially launched the service in 1995, the pay for search model failed miserably. Quickly changing strategy to be a free service, Infoseek eventually served millions of searches per day.

This early test was also almost laughably modest, though Kirsch's excitement about the search engine is obvious:

"In essence, we have the full text of about 140
computer publications available for searching using
plain English queries. So you can pose queries such as:

Who makes the fastest Pentium PC?
Who is Guido Van Rossum? <<--- our all-time favorite query!!!
What is Spec 1170?
Who is the new president of Sun Microsystems Computer Corp?
What is Kerberos?

and get back the answer in the top 1 or 2 documents."

Infoseek ultimately succumbed to financial pressures, selling itself in stages to Disney during 1998. The two companies jointly launched a new service, Go.com in December 1998, but by the middle of 1999, around the peak of portal rage, the separate Infoseek site had been closed and all traffic routed to Go.com.

As a web portal, Go.com didn't last long, either. After experimenting with several strategies, Disney shuttered the site in March, 2001, though it later quietly re-opened Go.com as a portal solely for Disney online media properties.

Infoseek had a sterling reputation among both searchers and webmasters, and its demise was a sad event indeed. So, please all join me in toasting what would have been its eighth birthday had it survived the infamous dotcom shakeout.

Steve Kirsch Announces Free Demos Of the Infoseek Search Engine (7/18/94)
Infoseek founder's original post announcing the availability of trial accounts for the search engine.

Infoseek Archives
Screenshots from Infoseek, from May 12, 1996 onward.

Portfolio: Steve Kirsch
Profile of Infoseek founder Steve Kirsch, who describes his biggest blunders: "Kirsch says he turned down a chance to acquire Yahoo in 1995 for $20 million 'because I thought it was overvalued.' He could have sold 6 million shares of Infoseek in early 1999 for about $100 a share -- and didn't. And Infoseek investigated acquiring online auction service eBay before it became a public company in September 1999. 'They told us they wanted a billion-dollar valuation,' Kirsch says. 'We told them to pound sand.'"

How Go (Infoseek) Works
A complete list of Search Engine Watch articles about Infoseek/Go, available to site members.

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was About.com's Web Search Guide.