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Revenge Of The Search Engine


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REVENGE OF THE SEARCH ENGINE

UNSOLICITED E-MAIL, OR "spam," is a bane of the Digital Age. Now, some unscrupulous Web site operators have broadened their targets to include the search engines that help users locate relevant information on the Internet. Instead of directing unwanted E-mail at individuals, these Web mavericks flood the popular search sites--AltaVista, Yahoo!, Infoseek, and others--with thousands of repetitions of popular words, such as "Michael Jordan," increasing the odds that their Web site will rise to the top of a search list. Their motive: to generate more traffic and thus boost the fees they command from advertisers.

Now, AltaVista is fighting back. On Oct. 14, Digital Equipment Corp.'s search service began filtering Web sites through a program that analyzes documents for repetitions, long lists of key words, and links to deceptively named Web pages. The effort, coordinated by AltaVista "Minister of Defense" Edgar Whipple, has so far resulted in barring about 100 Web sites from the service's index.

That's a drop in the bucket. Louis Monier, AltaVista's technical director, estimates that half of the 20,000 pages added to the search engine each day are schemes to boost Web site rankings. When Princess Diana was killed, Monier says, "people were adding the words `Diana,' `death,' and `car crash' to their pages, even if they were totally unrelated." Although some banned Web sites have threatened legal action, the lawsuits haven't materialized. Says Monier: "They don't have a leg to stand on."EDITED BY PETER ELSTROM By Paul C. JudgeReturn to top

SANTA'S LITTLE INTERNET HELPER

JUST IN TIME FOR THE holidays, Internet search company Excite Inc. hopes to ignite online shopping with Jango, a software shopping assistant. Excite recently purchased Seattle's Netbot for $35 million because Netbot's Jango technology can delve into the details of Net databases. Want a blue cashmere sweater? Jango can dig up several Web merchants that sell these, with price and quality information. In the past, Excite's Shopping Channel could zip Netizens to shopping sites but couldn't retrieve such detailed info. "The Web can be the ultimate comparison shopping tool," says Joe Kraus, Excite co-founder.

Excite's Jango will have to compete with other Web shopping assistants, including RoboShopper International, that offer a similar service.EDITED BY PETER ELSTROM By Seanna BrowderReturn to top

AN ONLINE CHECKUP FOR YOUR WEB SITE

YOU BRING YOUR CAR IN FOR A REGULAR TUNE-UP, BUT WHAT about your Web site? With the exploding popularity of the Internet, Web sites can quickly get gummed up with too much content or become outdated. AtWeb Inc., based in Sunnyvale, Calif., may have a solution.

On Nov. 10, the company was scheduled to introduce Web Site Garage, a site where you can check on how your Web site is holding up. Plug in the name of the site, and you get detailed information on things such as how long it takes visitors to download your opening Web page and whether links to other pages are still functioning. BUSINESS WEEK's Web site, for example, is dinged for having a long log-on time because of detailed graphics and hefty content. The Garage suggested trimming some of the content and making graphics smaller.

AtWeb already makes software utilities for servicing Web sites, so it will make money by selling those tools to Web Site Garage (www.websitegarage.com) visitors. "Primarily, it's going to be for smaller companies," says CEO Gautam Godhwani, who co-founded AtWeb in June, 1996.

The Garage isn't just for trouble-shooting. It also showed that BUSINESS WEEK's site scored an "excellent" for popularity--measured by links from nearly 10,000 other sites.EDITED BY PETER ELSTROMReturn to top


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