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Friday, September 26, 2003

As Promised: Why Sympatico Dumped Google

Canada's largest ISP has a lot going for it; a large, relatively stable, captive user base, for one thing. Timing doesn't seem to be one of their strengths, however.

Recall that Sympatico had forged an unusual content partnership with Lycos, rendering the name of the Sympatico.ca portal "Sympatico-Lycos." Realizing the mistake, they bided their time and eventually bought back Lycos's share for a reasonable price.

Next step was an ambitious deal with Microsoft to combine elements of MSN.ca with Sympatico.ca to form a power-portal, a deal I confess I still don't fully understand.

That seems to be why -- at least according to the best guess of spurned Google Canada people -- Sympatico decided it simply must sign Overture to be its pay-per-click and algorithmic search provider. MSN has deals with Overture, therefore there is a partnership there, and thus Sympatico by extension suddenly doesn't want to step on anyone's toes, and therefore doesn't want to have anything to do with Google. Pretty weak reasoning, since Overture was never all that close to MSN, just a partner, but there it is.

But as the wheels turned towards dumping Google, they were also turning simultaneously towards making Overture a part of Yahoo!, one of MSN's biggest competitors. Overture is an MSN partner for now, but how long might that last given that they're now a division of MSN's portal enemy?

So what will happen in a year or two when Sympatico-MSN decide they really don't want to send money over to Yahoo? Either MSN has its whiz-bang in-house search tech finished, or LookSmart gets the contract (but not Inktomi, since they're owned by Yahoo), or Sympatico reps nudge Google in the side and say, "pssst, hope there are no hard feelings, but we kind of need some search infrastructure over here..."

To save face, the likely solution will be that Sympatico-MSN maintain the Overture partnership for as long as it takes MSN to roll out its own search product.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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