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Seven Things You Didn't Know about Looksmart
By Andrew Goodman (Republished from Traffick Newsletter #7)

BT Looksmart's Amsterdam Projects Coordinator, Derek Fehmers, was kind enough to talk with Traffick recently. The conversation was a reminder of how fast things change in the new economy, and how rapid expansion is in the international marketplace today.

What you may already know is that Looksmart is a web directory service offering "granular content" (a web guide carefully organized by category) with the help of a staff of professional editors. It's a competitor to Yahoo, offering the directory on a syndication basis to major portal partners such as MSN and Excite.

You might also know that Looksmart originated in Australia, and had significant backing early on from Reader's Digest.

Here are some things that you may not know about Looksmart:

1. Looksmart is signing deals throughout Europe and Asia to provide information services to Internet Service Providers. In fact Looksmart now provides directories for 25 countries, and the number is growing fast. A recent coup was a deal for an Indian version.

European countries often have popular Internet Service Providers who are suddenly discovering that their customers are clamoring for information services. For high quality services with an increasingly localized focus, many are turning to Looksmart. Looksmart likes to hire native speakers to manage its international directories. Among the ISP's they've inked deals with: Infinito (Italy), Sunrise Suite (Switzerland), Ocean Free (Ireland), and Knock Knock (Holland).

2. Looksmart's European expansion was initially made possible by a deal with Microsoft. Mr. Fehmers points out that the financing and impetus to open European offices came from Microsoft's MSN, which uses Looksmart for its directory. MSN wanted better local European content, and Looksmart was asked to provide it.

3. Looksmart is powering Excite's directory services, not just at excite.com, but increasingly in international versions as well. Does this amount to a concession on Excite's part that its own directory offerings are stagnating? Does it mean that Excite has major plans for international expansion? Or does this mark an even deeper shift, with Excite@Home eventually moving out of the portal business? Inquiring minds want to know. In the meantime, companies like Looksmart can save major portals around the world from having to reinvent the wheel to provide needed content.

4. Looksmart is opening offices throughout Asia. While Yahoo recently invested a bundle in Korea, Looksmart is there, too, and they're in Hong Kong and Tokyo as well.

5. The Europe and Asia operation is in fact BT Looksmart, a joint venture with one of the world's largest telecommunications companies (110,000 employees). The JV is well-financed with $100 million from each of the two partners. Obviously, WAP (phone-based protocol) portals are going to be a big part of the future in Europe, and this group is at the forefront.

6. Looksmart is a partner of Time Warner. It now offers information services to web sites for major media properties such as CNNfn, and Entertainment Tonight. There is a growing list of such partners. This coincides with the strategic direction recently adopted by Looksmart. It has aborted plans to move towards a "portal business model," opting instead for a more behind-the-scenes role in powering others' content via a syndication model. In other words, Looksmart now realizes it's no Yahoo. No matter how good its directory gets, in terms of consumer recognition it can't compete head-to-head with the leading brand. It can, however, help major partners achieve their goals by allowing them to outsource custom content work to Looksmart. That's the way we always thought it was going to happen, and it's probably healthy that Looksmart once again recognizes that it must stick to its strengths.

7. BT Looksmart is a partner of Netscape Netcenter. Just have a look at the categorized content at http://home.netscape.com/uk/ . While a headline on the front page boasts "Open Directory Project Reaches One Million Sites," it is the professionally edited directory brought to you by Looksmart which is actually featured on the portal.

And just a reminder, courtesy of Chris Sherman : Looksmart, like Yahoo, now offers a "business express" service for companies wishing to expedite consideration for a Looksmart directory listing. The service costs $199. Considering the fact that Looksmart powers so many partners, including MSN, the investment might be worth it to those seeking to maximize their search engine rankings.

Looksmart is one amongst many companies who are recognizing that to make a go of it in the increasingly competitive international online marketplace, a local presence is vital. The fact that new business and editorial teams are just being deployed in many countries also means that the story for major search, directory, and portal services is just beginning. Think it's "game over" for the major consumer-oriented Internet companies? Think again! They're just getting warmed up.

The question remains: what do global consumers want from a web guide or directory? Isn't there more to life than simply helping web surfers track down good content, as was Yahoo's humble mission from day one?

Although there may be no shortage of data and opinions on consumers' needs and wants, the amazing thing is, it may be too early to really know what works online. Which services will be left standing in ten years' time? Who knows? Yahoo! is only seven years old, and its competitors are even younger than that. Seven years from today, those who tried to "build a better Yahoo" might well find that they have succeeded in bettering a competitor which has itself become irrelevant. Or one which has shifted gears and left its old self in the dust.

 

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