Abstract: The Web's Missing Links: The Search Engine and Portal Industry

Thomas Haigh


The web navigation industry was created in the mid-1990s by web directory firms (Yahoo, Magellan) and search engines (Excite, AltaVista, Lycos, Infoseek). By the late 1990s, both classes of firm were attempting to remake themselves as web portals, offering integrated access to a wide range of services. Few portals survived the collapse of the dot com boom. I show that subtle design choices taken during the pre-commercial period of the Internet and by Tim Berners-Lee in the original design of the net created a need for specialist navigation services and largely determined viable business models. But only the unusual behavior of venture capitalists and investors during the late 1990s can explain the suicidal determination of early search firms to become portals. The evolution of this industry was driven by interactions between the culture of the pre-commercial Internet and attempts by portal company leaders to duplicate the practices and models of existing media companies.