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HotLinks Taps Bookmarks to Build a Better Directory
By Andrew Goodman, December 11, 2000

How many editors does it take to build an Internet directory? How about 500,000? That's how many people use online bookmarking service HotLinks. Similar to (now-struggling) Backflip, HotLinks allows users to quickly save and categorize their favorite links in an online environment. It's like using Internet Explorer favorites, but it's more portable (accessible from any net-enabled computer) and has more features.

So how is this a directory? The directory is built out of the bookmark collections that users have chosen to mark as "shared." The fact that all these bookmarkers have done the work of categorizing sites and writing descriptions means that, as a side effect, HotLinks has a "work force" of several hundred thousand category editors. Thus the HotLinks Guide at http://guide.hotlinks.com/guide/ contains many links that Yahoo!, LookSmart, and the Open Directory Project do not.

To check out the top 100 most bookmarked sites in the Hotlinks database, see http://www.hotlinks.com/top100/ . Being the weirdo I am, I went right to #100. It's Fidelity Investments.

The HotLinks Guide also has a pretty neat way of deciding which sites should bubble to the top of a given category: the percentage of users in that category who have bookmarked a site. HotLinks calls this a site's "reach." In a category for "portals," Traffick.com has a reach of 3%, putting us on a par with ZDNet!!! So, we heartily agree with this methodology. ;)

Until it develops an even larger and more active user base, of course, the directory may have a few strange anomalies, as pointed out in a negative review by an eCompany Now reporter – “The Trouble Search Engines,” http://c.moreover.com/click/here.pl?e12075791

Funded by CMGI, and now suffering along with hundreds of other startups in the B2C backlash, HotLinks is one of those services whose applications are not always fully understood by potential customers. Currently, Chairman and CTO Jonathan Abrams is seeking partners and investors to help HotLinks port its functionality into the enterprise space. Shared bookmarking capabilities make HotLinks, in his estimation, an intuitive tool for corporate knowledge management, an easy-to-use tool which employees might actually use to create a shared database of knowledge. Abrams and I exchanged puzzled notes on the trends in corporate collaboration over the years (Lotus Notes, Collabra, Windows for Workgroups, Open Text, Groove Networks), and how much of it has come to naught, perhaps because much have it has been too complicated for the average employee. The phone conversation got so interesting that Abrams nearly crashed his car.

In addition to corporate collaboration applications, HotLinks technology can, in a fashion similar to competitors like Quiver and Wherewithal, build a custom directory for a niche web site, again making it easy for a large user base to participate in the categorization process through the intuitive bookmarking functionality.

Unlike so many thin-air dot-coms, there is hidden value and staying power lurking in many of the cutting edge Internet search companies. Steve Harmon, a pioneering analyst of Internet stocks, recently wrote a great column defending the search engine companies. Back in 1996, Harmon writes,"conventional wisdom said these companies were toast, burnt toast." In fact, Harmon continues, this was the ground floor:

Well search didn't die, despite media headlines to that effect. But it took 3 or 4 years to reach somewhat a level of maturity or understanding by investors. Since they focused on business and ignored the headlines all of these companies survived. More than that they still exist today! How many of the current crop of crap out there will say that in 3 or 4 years?

Search may not be today's fad, but the best search companies are trying their best to ignore the headlines and show that they're in it for the long haul. HotLinks' shot at sticking around as a superior search technology depends on the support of a major partner, be this Yahoo!, LookSmart, AOL, Ask Jeeves, or an investor or enterprise software company (such as Hummingbird?) that can help the company make its move into the enterprise.

What HotLinks offers to the enterprise is a potentially more intuitive way of fostering collaboration. What it offers to the grand old Internet space we all live in is a much more scalable way of building a large or niche Internet directory with zero labor costs. And oh yes, a really neat way to save your bookmarks.

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