Bad Data Series #5- They Weren't Excited by Google

Join us as we analyze memorably misinformed business decisions in our “Bad Data Series.” We’ll explore the many ways the wrong social analytics solution, offering inaccurate insight, could result in brands misunderstanding potential market opportunities. And missing out on category-defining moments in time. Here are the posts in the series:

This piece focuses on misplaced priorities. We analyze why Excite undervalued the importance of “search” and offer tips for rethinking innovation and setting your own brand’s priorities. Useful understanding for any business, really.

Or you can risk repeating Excite-like mistakes. They only missed out on owning the company that has become synonymous with online search after all . . .

Have a Question? Google It

Today, when offering/asking someone to find an answer to anything known or unknown, the guidance is the same: “Google it.” Everyone knows that means “search for it online.”

Back in 1999, as the story goes, “Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin tried to sell Google to Excite CEO George Bell for $1 million. After some negotiation, the price was dropped down to $750,000 only to still be rejected.”

But this isn’t the full story. Excite did want to acquire Google, but it wasn’t willing to accept the associated tech terms. “[As a condition of the acquihire deal, Larry Page demanded Excite’s tech stack be replaced with Google’s.” The folks at Excite felt that their technology was equally good and refused.

And Bell’s attention was pretty solidly focused on the future of technology, as he envisioned it – broadband. At that point in time, Excite was focused on and distracted by broadband, and merging with a provider of it – the @Home Network.

After turning down Google, Excite and @Home Network merged – and subsequently went bankrupt together in 2001.

Excite landing page

Misplaced priorities, indeed.

It goes to show that although searching for new revenue streams for a business is always wise – that next big thing may not be the best next thing for your brand.

Of course, there’s no way Excite could have utilized social analytics insight back then, and certainly not next generation AI-powered social analytics insight that’s available today – but brands are making similarly ill-advised business direction decisions today regardless.

There’s lots to get interested in and distracted by online, that’s for sure. But, unlike Excite, businesses today are able to take a step back and reorient their efforts with a few clicks on the right social analytics tool

Let’s show you that potential before you make hasty decisions.

Excited Identified New Business Ideas – But Wrong Ones

Identifying new ideas isn’t easy. As Excite’s laser-focus on @Home Network shows, it’s extremely consuming. It can be all encompassing even, once in the thick of it.

With social listening, businesses can focus product, service and acquisition investments on ideas with the greatest demand. And come away with a better sense of which ideas offer the highest likelihood of success by monitoring a few impactful measurements over time.

by monitoring a few impactful measurements over time, Excite would have acquired Google

What terms are associated with the search in your topic – and do they resonate with your brand? Many retailers are realizing the purchase power behind the VSCO girl trend, for example, and are seeking ways to connect with this Gen Z crowd:

VSCO girls trending mentions

And their almost equally obsessed parent base:

VSCO demographics

Having a short list of compelling product ideas (even crazy ideas) to continuously add to and monitor helps businesses understand why certain conversations are happening, assuming this trend continues.

And it allows for stronger positioning if a business decides to move forward with a new product targeted to this group, as they’ll understand the language and what they’ve traditionally loved. As well as being alerted to new trends that may be on the horizon:

James Charles as disco girl

Understanding Underserved Markets

Consumers are sharing their unique experiences online, and lots of it relates to your category in general, and your business specifically. Many of them are quiet consumers, who aren’t @mentioning anyone, but have lots of valuable intel to share.

Capturing these underserved markets can help businesses create entire new categories. Just ask anyone working in the sustainability space. The conversation there is significant:

brands can avoid Excite's Google mistake by monitoring impactful metrics

And far-reaching:

tracking the fast fashion conversation

Identifying where “online” is headed in your category is always super important to monitor, as businesses can win big with:

  • Identifying white space potential, with emerging trends and market demands – before competitors
  • Finding dissatisfied customers (even dissatisfied competitor customers) and underserved markets to determine wants and needs
  • Profiling affected customers for a deeper understanding of passions and behavioral drivers

sustainability conversation snippets

Excite Couldn’t See What Competitors Were Doing, But You Can

What were Excite’s competitors doing during that period? Yahoo, WebCrawler and Lycos all went the way of search (none did as well with it as Google, of course) though each hit its own snafus with side ventures as well. They didn’t go all in with a new direction though, which seems too have saved them to varying degrees.

What was the buzz around what they were doing – and how was it resonating in investor and consumer conversations back then? Hard to tell, as we’re left with lots of speculation and some after-the-fact reporting.

Today we have access to so many real-time consumer conversations on a variety of forums, blogs, news sites, social media channels, reviews and so much more. It’s all freely offered and there’s no reason for businesses to not know how the market feels about a certain product, service or about a company as a whole! And understanding if competitors’ efforts are working is a simple thing to capture today with analytics as well.

Excite could have compared competitor conversations

Working blindly without very specifically informed intel it is what sunk Excite – and it’s just unnecessary today. Their priorities were skewed because their intel was as well.

Social analytics not only captures the competitive market, but can help brands make predictions with a level of confidence too. And without a time machine.

Predicting the Future – Intel that Excite Didn’t Have

Searching for things online wasn’t new when Excite made its fateful decision, of course – so it wasn’t an idea in need of “predicting.” And, in hindsight, Google may not have existed as it does today had it been acquired by Excite. Or, it could have been something even more amazing. The world will never know. The point is – “online search” didn’t seem like a sure bet.

Making predictions around what will resonate with consumers was much more of a crapshoot twenty years ago. Today, all it requires is the foresight that social analytics measurement offers.


As Brian Mossop, PhD, Senior Vice President of Insights & Analytics Lead at FleishmanHillard spoke to recently at NetBase LIVE – social analytics answers:

  • What happened?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What is happening now?
  • What will happen?
  • How we can make it happen?
  • What can we do about it?

to make an informed decision about Google, Excite needed the foresight that social analytics measurement offers

None of those are easy questions to answer without this insight. And even with it, if the tool isn’t offering transparently sourced insight, having confidence in one’s findings can be a scary pill to swallow (with good reason).

Being that “what if we’d said yes?” company on the wrong side of a potential Google acquisition failure has to sting though. So, sorting out a social analytics tool you can have confidence in should be a top priority. We’ll leave you with that!

Reach out and we’ll help you better understand your category and avoid a similar, decidedly not exciting, fate!

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