A Goto.com Time Capsule: Looking at a Four Year Old Vision of Paid Search

Back before there was Yahoo! Search Marketing, and prior to Overture, there was Goto.com. Goto.com changed its name to Overture in September of 2001, and was purchased by Yahoo! a little over two years later for the small sum of $ 1.6 billion.

goto logo

John Battelle’s book, The Search paints an interesting picture of what this search engine was like, and he posted an excerpt on his site this summer, to give you a glimpse: The Sugar Daddy: It’s All About Arbitrage.

A couple of posts ago, I noted that I was surprised by seeing Stephen Jobs name listed as an inventor of one of the patent applications I looked at. I was even more startled to see Goto.com listed as the assignee in another patent application this morning. This one was originally filed back before the October 2001 name change, and wasn’t published for the public to get a gander at until today.

In many ways, coming across it was a little like unearthing a time capsule. You have to look in the internet archive to get a first hand taste of what it was like, and be reminded that it has an even longer history under an older name. In How We Got To GoTo, we are told that the site’s original name was the World Wide Web Worm, and before it was acquired, it was one of the first searchable sites that automatically indexed the web with its own web crawler.

Considering that the site hasn’t been called Goto.com in more than four years, and that it first arrived on the scene in the early days of the World Wide Web, it was a shock to see:

System and method for influencing a position on a search result list generated by a computer network search engine
US Patent Application 20050289120
Inventors: Thomas A. Soulanille and Darren J. Davis
Assignee Name and Address: GoTo.com, Inc.
Published December 29, 2005
Filed: July 26, 2001

The abstract doesn’t seem like something unique or special, at least not today. I’m having a hard time remembering if it was back then. I don’t remember spending too much time at Goto.com, or even looking at too many paid advertisements back then. But even in 2001, it had been more than a year or two since I bothered to create a banner ad.

A method for providing a search result list.

The method includes receiving a search request from a searcher.

In a database of search listings in which each search listing is associated with an advertiser and includes at least one search term and a bid amount by the advertiser, search listings generating a match with the search request are identified.

A predetermined number of identified search listings are selected according to bid amount for display to the searcher.

The identified search listings are arranged for display in a random order as the search result list.

The search result list is then communicated to the searcher.

Parts of this patent application read like a snapshot of what the web was like before Google even used advertising. There’s a lot of optimism in the section labeled “Background of the Invention.” Would Goto have been where Google is right now if things had gone a little differently? It’s hard to tell.

Share

3 thoughts on “A Goto.com Time Capsule: Looking at a Four Year Old Vision of Paid Search”

  1. I wonder why the listings would be “arranged for display in a random order?” That doesn’t make much sense to me.

    Results are generally either ranked by some kind of relevancy metric such as link popularity, bid, or click through rate, but certainly not randomly. Strange.

  2. Hi Ed,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. That’s an excellent question.

    Ideally, an abstract should describe the document itself, and the process within it. This abstract is misleading, because it really doesn’t do that. Instead, it takes part of what is in one section of the patent application itself, and repeats it.

    In the “brief summary” section, the application starts with this notion of selecting paid listings to go with search requests, and does say that they will be displayed in a random order. But, then it discusses some alternatives to that “random order.”

    The first is this one:

    The method further includes selecting according to bid amount a predetermined number of identified search listings for display to the searcher and arranging as the search result list the identified search listings for display in a random order weighted according to the bid amount associated with each respective identified search listing.

    The second variation even removes the randomness mentioned in that one:

    The method further includes selecting according to bid amount a variable number of identified search listings for display to the searcher, wherein the number of selected identified search listings is a function of the bid amounts for the identified search listings.

    That summary section also notes that these are possible ways for this to work, and that there may be more, and the more detailed sections below go on to define some of them. The language they use to say this is this:

    The foregoing discussion of the preferred embodiments has been provided only by way of introduction. Nothing in this section should be taken as a limitation on the following claims, which define the scope of the invention

    Here’s a snippet from lower down in the document that shows a process that doesn’t seem quite so random:

    Preferably, the rank value is assigned through a process, implemented in software, that establishes an association between the bid amount, the rank, and the search term of a search listing. The process gathers all search listings that match a particular search term, sorts the search listings in order from highest to lowest bid amount, and assigns a rank value to each search listing in order. The highest bid amount receives the highest rank value, the next highest bid amount receives the next highest rank value, proceeding to the lowest bid amount, which receives the lowest rank value. Most preferably, the highest rank value is 1 with successively increasing ordinal values (e.g., 2, 3, 4, . . . ) assigned in order of successively decreasing rank. The correlation between rank value and bid amount is illustrated in FIG. 7, where each of the paid search list entries 710a through 71 Of display the advertiser’s bid amount 750a through 750f for that entry. Preferably, if two search listings having the same search term also have the same bid amount, the bid that was received earlier in time will be assigned the higher rank value.

    Thanks for asking. I probably should have described the process defined in the patent a little more than just including the abstract.

    Cheers.

Comments are closed.