Magazine article Online

iWon: What Value for the Information Professional?

Magazine article Online

iWon: What Value for the Information Professional?

Article excerpt

The iWon approach has proved successful for the company, and for those few lucky cash prize winners, but it leads to many questions for the information professional.

New search engines and portals no longer pop up so frequently as they did in the recent past. With the Internet economy tanking and IPOs being postponed rather than rushed, it takes a creative business model to make a new search engine or portal succeed. iWon jumped into the portal wars in October 1999. From the beginning, the big difference--and selling point--for iWon was that by using it, you can be entered into cash sweepstakes. And iWon has given away millions of dollars at the same time that it has become increasingly popular. This is certainly a different approach from most other search engines.

The iWon approach has proved successful for the company, and for those few lucky cash prize winners, but it leads to many questions for the information professional. How can it fit in with the other Net searching tools in our arsenals? What does it search? How can it be used effectively? And what unique ethical dilemmas does it cause? This month's column takes a look at some of these issues, as well as at some of the unique ways in which iWon has approached the problem of search.

WINNING WAYS

When iWon was established, the financial support for portals was based primarily on how many users visited the site. Success was measured in "eyeballs"--the more page views, the greater the income opportunity. The founders of iWon came up with the very simple and effective idea of giving away cash prizes to attract users: $10,000 every day, $1,000,000 every month, with a $10,000,000 yearly prize. Each activity on the iWon site gives registered users a certain number of sweepstakes entries, up to a maximum of 100 a day. At this point, only U.S. residents can register with iWon to win these cash prizes. That means that non-U.S. residents not only have no special encouragement to use iWon, there is a disincentive.

Throughout the site, iWon is constantly promoting its cash prizes and offering ways to increase your infinitesimally small chance of winning. And if you cannot even register, these constant reminders just get in the way of easily using the site. For almost every click that a user can make on an iWon page, there is a small number followed by the [greater than] symbol which represents the number of sweepstakes entries that you would gain if you click on that link. For example, "9 [grater than] Shopping" means that when a registered user clicks on the "Shopping" link, that user gets nine more entries of the maximum of 100 per day. This can make search results look a bit strange. At first glance, most people are used to seeing the first hit listed as 1 and the second as 2, but on iWon, each hit only has the number that represents the number of sweepstakes entries in front of it.

CASHING IN ON DATABASES

The cash prizes alone may certainly attract users even if iWon offered no information content, services, or search abilities. Yet iWon has collected content from a wide variety of sites. It has a directory, a search engine, current news, and much more. On the search side, it does not have its own database. Instead, it gives results from a collection of partners: LookSmart, Inktomi, Direct Hit, Real Names, Moreover, and Fact City. Searches can also be limited to Top 10 Sites, News Articles, Stock Quotes, MP3/Audio, or Shopping.

Beyond the cash prize carrot, iWon has taken an interesting approach to packaging the results from these multiple databases. They are clearly separated in their own boxes with obvious attributions. The matches for Directory Categories (powered by LookSmart) appear at the top, followed by the Web Sites listing from Inktomi. For the Inktomi search results, iWon can include results from Inktomi's GEN3 database. Many other Inktomi search partners only pull results from what Inktomi calls its Best of the Web database, which includes maybe 110 million indexed Web pages. …

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