For much of the period from 1997-1999, I too was a player in the directory and search business. My company, IndiaWorld Communications, had launched Indias first search engine, appropriately titled khoj in March 1997. (Since November 1999, khoj has been part of Sify, following its acquisition of IndiaWorld.)
The problem I set out to solve in March 1997 was that of India-centricity in search. Yahoo was then the de facto king. It would take a long time to get sites registered into its directory. When one did a search, it was difficult to get India-centric results Yahoo covered the world, but there were times when one wanted to limit the results to ones local context. I also realised then that search was one of the key attractors on the Internet. As new people came online, they needed to know which sites to visit. As new sites get launched, they needed a place to list them to tell the surfers. This is what khoj set out to solve.
We launched khoj on the second anniversary of the launch of IndiaWorld. We positioned it as the Indian alternative to Yahoo. Heres an extract from our press release (sourced from Google Groups):
Finding Indian Web sites just got easier. IndiaWorld, India’s largest Web site, has launched khoj, an online directory of over 800 India-related Web sites. khoj catalogues the Web sites into 11 primary categories, and has a multi-level classification system for business, education, entertainment, news and government. “Khoj” is a Hindi word which means “search.”
“Think of khoj as the Indian alternative to Yahoo. It will help people worldwide find Indian resources, information and companies much more easily. khoj is the first Asian venture on such a large scale,” said Rajesh Jain.
I remember sitting up for about two weeks prior to the launch going through a catalogue of Indian sites and classifying them one-by-one on a slow link to the Internet. In fact to make classification easier, we had written a program to get the top pages of various sites and store them offline in our office so that classification did not necessarily need a real-time connection to the Internet.
It was this crawling of pages that gave us the idea to add a search engine to the khoj directory. This way, people had three ways to find sites: navigate the directory, search the website descriptions in the directory, and get results from the actual cached pages of the Indian sites. This combination is what helped khoj become extremely popular and made it the top-ranked Indian search engine.
Tomorrow: Whats Missing
TECH TALK Constructing the Memex+T