WASHINGTON – The new man at the top of Lycos Inc. (search) is determined to teach the old dog some new tricks.
Alfred Tolle says that while the 10-year-old Web company is the 16th most trafficked site, he fears it's lost in the marketplace. The former Bertelsmann AG (search) executive has embarked on a three-year strategy to position Lycos.com as an Internet hub for consumer-created content like photo albums, podcasts, video blogs, and short films. He hopes the payoff will be a return to the public markets with an offering in 2007.
"I don't have the ability to put $50 million into a marketing campaign," he explained in an interview. "So, I'm bringing back the dog," as the company's logo, a retriever who exemplified Lycos' original mission as one of the original search engines. Casting an eye at Looksmart.com (LOOK) or Amazon.com's (AMZN) A-9, he sees interesting search technology but, "They are lacking brand awareness." As a top 20 Web site, Lycos has that.
He says Lycos also has good technology. It delivers what he calls Helpful Search, "the most likely results you are looking for," compared to Google's (GOOG) thousands and thousands of links which overwhelm people. "Our technology is now in quality testing, but I need partnerships and alliances to get the word out."
He concedes acquisitions are possible, mentioning Technorati (search), a Web log search service, in the same breath saying, "This is the kind of company we are looking at, seeing if they are acquisition potentials or whether we have the ability to do the same thing ourselves."
Lycos has 42 destination Web sites. In six months, there will be fewer. Each week, Tolle said, the company is looking at sites with an eye to shuttering them and taking popular features and aligning them with stronger sites. "Focus, focus, focus is what we must do, Tolle said.
Two sites already in the Lycos network have influenced Tolle as he mapped out his plan. Angelfire and Tripod, Web services which let users build personal or store sites, blogs and photo galleries, draw 25 million visitors a month, he said. He said they have very strong audiences 13-29 years old. "We already have this promotional platform with millions of people," he said.
The idea of a Web version of "American Idol" has not escaped his imagination. "We need to position ourselves as the content destination for creators and consumers. I would like to give people the opportunity to share in the advertising revenue we would get from people watching and listening."
He may be on to something. Consumer-generated media is attracting a lot of interest, to judge by startups like Evan Williams' podcasting service Odeo.com, and the success of Filckr.com, the photo sharing site, and venture capital investment in Adam Curry's Podshow.com.
Research released this week by Intelliseek Inc. said traditional advertising is being challenged by the opinions and recommendations contained in Web logs and message boards and comparison shopping Web sites. "Word of mouth behavior ... trumps all forms of advertising and is more trusted than news or 'expert commentary'," its study concluded.
Tolle came to the CEO job at Lycos, after serving on the board of Korea's Daum Communications Corp. (search), which operates South Korea's second-largest portal at Daum.net. It bought Lycos from Spain's Terra Networks (search) for $95 million. In 2000, Terra paid $12.5 billion.