The State Hornet

Search engine just for college students

Nick Fricke

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In the late 1990s, many companies competed on the World Wide Web for dominance in the search engine business. AltaVista, HotBot, Excite and Yahoo were a few of the several Web sites claiming their engines indexed the most Web pages and gave users the best search results on the Internet.

In 1999 a new competitor offered their services to Web users and took the Internet by surprise. Google, with its superior search engine and simple, fast-loading page design, quickly became the leading Web-search provider.

A consolidation of the competition soon followed. Yahoo bought several competing search engines, including AltaVista, and integrated Google search technology into its main Web site. Microsoft&s MSN.com site used search technology licensed from Yahoo, which itself was the engine for HotBot. While HotBot and Excite still exist, they are no longer the popular Web-search sites they once were.

These developments haven&t discouraged others from entering the search engine business, however, as new competitors attempt to capture a share of the market and chip away at Google&s user base.

One of these competitors is IceRocket.com, a relatively new addition to the Internet. The Web site debuted last summer to little press or advertising, save for the announcement on Mark Cuban&s Web log, or &blog,& exclaiming, &Watch out Google& here we come!& Cuban, owner of the NBA&s Dallas Mavericks and Internet billionaire is an investor and partner in IceRocket along with its creator and CEO, Blake Rhodes.

&I started the Web site last year while I was a senior at Texas Christian

University,& Rhodes said. &At the time I just wanted to start a search engine for fun. I had some ideas that I wanted to see done on search engines and none of the current players were doing them.&

Some of those ideas include &Phone Pics,& where people can search for pictures taken from mobile phones that are posted online. For PDA users, search requests can be sent via e-mail to IceRocket and the site will e-mail back the results. When performing a standard Web search, a thumbnail image gives a small preview of the site. Users can then click on &Quick View& to open a window inside the search results to look at the page, or click on &Archives& to view archived versions of the Web page if any are available.

The &new toy& in IceRocket that Rhodes is most proud of is the ability to search exclusively for information inside blogs. He said this will bring more traffic to people&s blogs and will allow them to see what others are writing.

While some bloggers may welcome the ability to search other people&s blogs and vice versa, there are some concerns for those who may wish to keep their information more private.

&A blog is your own writing vehicle and nothing should go into the blog that you don’t want to make public,& said Mark Stoner, communications studies professor for Sacramento State University. &The content is entirely up to you, so your privacy is as complete as you wish to make it. Remember, the choice to go public is yours, so whatever responses you get, you have to take some responsibility for inviting them.&

IceRocket is not the only Web site hoping to get people to switch from Google. Yahoo stopped licensing Google&s search technology in May 2004 and has now developed its own search engine. Since the change, Yahoo went from 27.1 percent share of Web-search volume in December 2003 to 31.9 percent in December 2004, according to comScore Networks& Web traffic data.

On Jan. 28 at World Economic Forum, Bill Gates bluntly stated that Microsoft was &stupid as hell& for letting other Web-search companies take the lead. Last week, Microsoft dropped Yahoo as the search engine provider for MSN.com and has developed its own technology. New features like &Search Near Me& attempts to find businesses that are geographically close to the user, and &Instant Answers& uses Microsoft&s Encarta encyclopedia to answer users& questions. MSN Search is still a work in progress, as several members of the press have commented; it is not quite up to the quality of Google or Yahoo&s search results. However, it is backed by a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign in various media and Microsoft hopes to capitalize on users who have MSN.com as their browser&s home page. Analysts are optimistic that the search engine will improve and expect it will cut into Google&s market share.

What does IceRocket have planned to stay competitive? Rhodes says that the company is open to ideas from anyone, and he personally answers every e-mail sent to him. If users want a certain feature added, just send e-mail directly to him, as his address listed on the Web site&s contact page.

&We have a lot of stuff in the works,& said Rhodes. &Soon our users will be able to submit phone pics to us and they will instantly be posted. I think this will be fun for college students, as they will be able to get on IceRocket and possibly see pics their friends have submitted from their phones.&

Rhode plans to keep the advertising at a minimum, however.

&Well, we are pretty much using word-of-mouth only. Actually, we&ve paid a guy to get an IceRocket.com tattoo on his forearm,& Rhodes said.

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