HotBot revs up with four search engines

Terra Lycos SA unveiled a new version of its HotBot search site on Monday that integrates catalogs from Google Inc., Fast Search & Transfer ASA, Inktomi Corp. and Teoma, offering search addicts a one-stop spot to find what they're looking for.

Lycos' relaunch of HotBot comes as part of the company's plans to strengthen its search business after losing ground to competitors like Google.

The Spanish Internet group acquired HotBot in 1999 when it purchased Wired Digital, but hasn't done much to update the index until recently. Aimed at the tech-savvy user, HotBot will now boast catalogs from four of the more popular search engines on the Web, plus expanded customization tools that users can tweak to better define their query.

"HotBot hadn't been invested in for years," said Tom Wilde, general manager of Lycos Search. "Since then, the search space has become more competitive and we thought it was time to extend our appeal to that segment of the audience."

Users type in a word or phrase and can then select which engine to search. If they do not find what they are looking for on one engine, users can select another catalog to search without leaving the HotBot site. Combined, the four catalogs have more than 6 billion pages of information.

To help users narrow their searches, HotBot offers features such as date filtering, domain filtering, world region filters and a choice of 47 languages. Users can also sort results by file types and filter out offensive language.

In addition to offering comprehensive search catalogs, Lycos is hoping to snag users by offering a streamlined site. The new HotBot home page has a basic design, and will not contain advertisements. The search results will have paid-for-placement listings, however, from Overture Services Inc. and Lycos.

According to Wilde, this decision reflects the company's theory that contextualized marketing is more successful.

"As we've watched behavior on Internet we've seen a profound shift from the Net as an entertainment medium to the Net as a productivity tool," Wilde said.

"Putting ads on the HotBot home page would be counter to our experience."

Wilde said that Lycos had been working on the redesign of HotBot for over a year, and that the company was pleasantly surprised with the speed of the site's search capabilities given the amount of information it had to cull through.

But while getting the technology in shape was one challenge, so was getting four of the most popular search engines to sit side by side on one page, open to comparison. Lycos already had relationships with both Fast and Inktomi, which has powered HotBot since the beginning, but Google and Teoma were new partners.

"They were tricky but successful negotiations," Wilde said.

In the end, Google and Teoma, which powers Ask Jeeves Inc., were won over by the fact that HotBot reaches a more tech-attuned search audience, he said.

Lycos plans to offer more specialty catalogs, such as news and images. Until then, the new HotBot still offers an informational oasis for serious searchers, and to kick it off the company is launching a multimillion dollar print and online campaign.

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