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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Without 'Answers,''s parent will become part of

While some analysts have already deemed online search to be a territory that Google has already won, there are still competitors looking to assemble the right formula. This morning, some new pieces fell into place for the #5 provider.

On the surface, last July's announced deal between a Wikipedia-like reference service and an online dictionary and thesaurus publisher, looked like a sweetheart deal. But it later turned south after the dowry required to make the deal work failed to materialize. Now, after would-be groom turned out to be something of a deadbeat, the jilted Lexico -- publisher of -- finds itself wedded to a much more capable provider:, with a new chief at the helm since just last January.

In an all-cash deal, the details of which were withheld, the parent of,, and will be absorbed by, in that company's latest effort at attaining enough momentum to be treated with respect in its competition against Google and Yahoo.

Lexico's peek into the realm of online greatness came last September, when it emerged as #50 on comScore's Top 50 list of frequented Web sites, with 15.66 million unique monthly visitors -- an annual growth rate of 33%. But once's bad fortunes became evident to all, Lexico properties lost a bit of that momentum. With ABC-owned Web sites raising the #50 bar to 17.6 million, Lexico properties fell off of comScore's list, contrary to what reported this morning -- and contrary to what industry blogs subsequently repeated. had plans for an initial public offering that would have helped fund its proposed Lexico takeover. But those plans were dropped in February, with its management blaming "the state of the public markets" for the decision. The fact that the all-cash deal was supposed to have been valued at $100 million, and that only raised $3 million in revenue for the first quarter of this year, may also have had something to do with it.

On the winning side of the ticket, new CEO Jim Safka claimed full credit for the deal in a phone call to Reuters, saying he placed the call to Lexico on the day he learned the deal had fallen apart. Safka is no stranger to matches made in heaven: For about two and a half years until April 2007, he served as the acting CEO of dating service

In a statement this morning, Safka said one other reason he knew the two companies were a good fit was because the word "dictionary" was itself the second most popular search term on