Web Masters Episode #52: Fuzzy Mauldin


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Fuzzy Mauldin:

If I feel like I will burn in hell, it would be because I helped create the industry called search engine optimization. This is nothing more than thousands and thousands of people who try to trick search engines into showing people something they want instead of what the person wants. And every one of these people is an agent of Satan. And the fact that I gave them a job, irks me no end. The whole bowl of search, and especially if you’ve ever had to do scientific papers or get a PhD, you have to measure how well your service works. Here’s my accuracy, here’s my recall, here’s my precision. None of that has this guy in the middle, trying to attack the queries saying here, we’re going to tag this erectile dysfunction product with something that you’re looking for, so instead of finding the answer to your problem, you’re going to get an ad for erectile dysfunction. That’s not helping anyone. And yet the guy putting the attack in there gets paid somehow. I don’t know how, and I’m sorry about that.

Aaron Dinin:

On behalf of search engine users everywhere, I’ll go ahead and accept his apology. Because even though the man you just heard did indeed help foster the search engine optimization industry and all the manipulation and trickery that comes with it, he also played a big and important role in making web search more efficient and more accessible for everyone. Oh, and he also spent nearly two decades building robots that battled other robots to the death, so that’s cool too. His name is Michael Mauldin, better known as Fuzzy Mauldin and he created the Lycos search engine. Are you ready to hear the story? Let’s get dialed in.

[INTRO]

Aaron Dinin:

Hi, and welcome to Web Masters. The podcast that teaches about entrepreneurship by talking with some of the most impactful and successful Internet innovators. I’m your host, Aaron Dinin, I’m a serial entrepreneur and I teach entrepreneurship at Duke University. On this episode of Web Masters, we’ve got someone who doesn’t necessarily consider himself an entrepreneur or businessman, and really didn’t want to be either. At the very least, that’s not how he got started, but that’s kind of what happened.

Fuzzy Mauldin:

As soon as you have hundreds of thousands of people pinging on your computer every day, you become a businessman because you have customers now.

Aaron Dinin:

And that’s what he had. Hundreds of thousands, then millions of users, all coming to a search engine he built by himself as a faculty member of Carnegie Mellon University. Pretty soon he needed to find a better way of supporting that rapid growth beyond begging his bosses for more computers and bandwidth, so he turned it into a business. I’m going to tell you how he did that, but first, I’m going to take a minute to tell you about our sponsor. Web Masters wouldn’t be possible without the support of our sponsor and partner Latona’s. Latona’s is a boutique mergers and acquisitions broker who helps people buy and sell cashflow positive Internet businesses and digital assets. That includes things like SAS apps, domain portfolios, Shopify stores, e-commerce sites, Amazon FBAs, content networks, and I suppose even search engines if you’ve got one lying around.

Whatever you have, if you’re thinking about selling it, be sure to talk with the team at Latona’s, they have decades of experience helping people just like you sell your digital businesses. And if you’re hoping to buy a profitable Internet business, start your search at the Latona’s website, where they’re constantly updating their listings for businesses ready to be bought. That website is latonas.com, L-A-T-O-N-A-S.com. In the world of tech and entrepreneurship, Fuzzy Mauldin is no longer a household name. He’s more of a legend and that’s because he retired in 1996. And even then it took a few years for people to believe he wasn’t interested in building something new.

Fuzzy Mauldin:

I am severely retired. I became severely retired after Google spent the better part of a decade, trying to hire me with promises of more funding, more people working for me. And they didn’t realize that I’m a lone wolf and the more people that I have to take care of, the scarier it is, so finally I told them I was severely retired and they stopped calling.

Aaron Dinin:

As you can probably guess someone who retired from the technology industry way back in 1996 is someone who started a good bit earlier.

Fuzzy Mauldin:

In high school between my junior and senior years. I went to a program at Southern Methodist University called the JvN Math Seminar, John von Neumann. And I was studying math, I was planning to be a mathematician. I was good at maths, and physics, and law, but math was the thing I was best at. And I went to summer camps, we spent six weeks with four dozen extreme math nerds. But one of the courses that we got was of course, in programming BASIC on a CDC 6600 computer. And that was my first computer, so this was 1976, I was 17 years old and I’m learning BASIC for the first time. And I loved it, so that was great. After that, there were no high school courses in computing at my school in Midland, Texas in 1977, so I went to the local community college and learned Fortran.

The way we learned FORTRAN was you would sit down with a pad of paper, it was graph paper. You would write your program on the graph paper, they would take that program, hand it to someone else. They would type it, run on a computer, send you your output. And so the next week you would see whether your program crashed or not, so that was programming in 1977. I went to Rice in 77 and discovered I could type my own cards instead of having to have someone else transcribe them, so you punch the cards, you put the deck in, you wait 20 minutes and a printout comes out in the bin, and you look at it and it says syntax error, and you start over. That was the stone age of computing, for me.

Aaron Dinin:

You would have been at Rice as the Internet or rather its predecessor, the ARPANET was first starting to grow. Is that right? Was that your first introduction to the Internet?

Fuzzy Mauldin:

Yes. I was first exposed to the ARPANET, ARPA Advanced Research Projects Agency. This was during the Carter years when ARPA had an A at the front. As soon as Reagan became president, he put the D on it because it’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, so DARPA. They wanted you to remember your job is to make the military better. Anyway, while I was at Rice, timesharing became more involved, actually the university on the computer and charged the computer science people to use it. When the Computer Science Department formed, they bought a PDP-11 and then they had their own computer, and so we didn’t have to pay to use the computer all of a sudden, and so that was a big innovation. And then I went off for graduate school to Carnegie Mellon. I got my own ARPANET address, right? MLM@NL-VAX. I was somebody, I had an email address, so that was how I learned how to talk to other people, we’d share files back and forth.

Aaron Dinin:

What kinds of files were you passing around back then?

Fuzzy Mauldin:

I wanted to say I was famous. My class said I was notorious for helping to write a program called Rogue-O-Matic, which would play the computer game Rogue, and we would share this program around the Internet using FTP, the file transfer protocol, and hundreds of places around the globe downloaded this program. One guy ran it and beat the game, it got the amulet at the end door. Dennis Ritchie at Bell Labs had an entire computer just running Rogue-O-Matic, so I wasted time, not only at my university, but at other universities around the world.

Aaron Dinin:

Now keep in mind that Fuzzy is talking about a moment in computer history when computer time and compute cycles cost lots more money than they do now. The idea of someone wasting precious computer time to run a program that automatically played a computer game would have seemed well, a lot more wasteful and let’s say mischievous. But hopefully it gives you an idea of the kind of innovator Fuzzy is, he’s someone interested in experimenting and pushing boundaries for the sake of seeing what’s possible rather than someone with a clearly defined agenda or goal. Mind you, I’m not arguing one approach is better than the other, more so laying the foundation for what we’re going to see with Lycos. That it wasn’t a highly choreographed entrepreneurial process of identifying and then entering a promising new market, which is a lot of what we learn about here on Web Masters. Instead, Lycos was an academic experiment.

Fuzzy Mauldin:

Fast forward to 1994, and we have the worldwide web. And I had just come off of a competition with a natural language project that we did with General Electric for the Defense Department, actually other three-letter agencies. And we won, and we were waiting for our follow on funding, so I had four months, no funding. I had a Digital Media NSF grant that started up in September, so I was funded four months in the future, but I had a window where I had no funding, so my boss Jaime Carbonell said, oh, this worldwide web looks interesting. Why don’t you see what you can do with it? Those were my marching orders, so in April of 1994, I went to a friend of mine who had a Perl script called LongLegs, that basically do the same thing as the World Wide Web Wanderer. It would wander around the web and just collect addresses, so that was at MIT in 93.

A friend of mine had written something similar in 1994 and I got a copy of it, and I took it, and I expanded it to retrieve documents, put them through a process that we use in information retrieval to generate what we called an abstract of the document. And we would collect these abstracts and that would allow you to search the web, and that was Lycos. I started in April, we made the code available, we made the service available in the summer, I forget the exact date, I think it was like June or July, so all of a sudden, now you could search the web on a much broader basis.

Aaron Dinin:

From what you’ve shared so far. It doesn’t really sound like search was something you were originally interested in, so how did you start one of the world’s first widely available search engines?

Fuzzy Mauldin:

Well, my passion was actually natural language and this was inspired by movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, which came out in 1968, so I was nine years old and it was a computer, and instead of having to go type cards and wait a week for something, you could just say hello to the computer and ask it something, and it would answer you. And I know we all have our various, Siri and Alexa and all that now and it just seems to work, but there was a time when it was pure science fiction. And the first fledgling efforts at dealing with this were like ELIZA at MIT, where you could type, and the computer would talk back to you. Now ELIZA never said anything, it just parroted your words back at you to make you think you were talking, so you couldn’t get anything new out of ELIZA, but you could spend a lot of time talking to it, and some people found it therapeutic.

I got into Natural Language and my thesis was actually how to do information retrieval using natural language, so the retrieval part was secondary. It was the natural language that was the essence of my thesis. And in particular, my program, which was called FERRET could look at a dictionary, look up a word it didn’t know, figure out what words were close, and use that information to make a better answer for the retrieval query. I got a PhD for that, that was my AI contribution to the world. People still reference my thesis and it really still hasn’t been done very well. It’d be great if your retrieval engines were actually intelligent, instead they’ve got really good statistics behind them. But I took my thesis work, I applied it to the worldwide web and that’s where Lycos became to be interesting.

Aaron Dinin:

And where exactly does Lycos exist on the timeline of early web search engines?

Fuzzy Mauldin:

Everybody says they were first and everybody has a couple of weasel words. We were the first search engine that had a blue background, or we were the biggest search engine, after this point in time. I don’t want to take anything away from anybody, everybody contributed. I always say, I was one of the people who helped invent the search engine. I did invent it for brief period, maybe we had a good claim for being the best. People came along after us and made things better, so I’m part of the fabric of the search engine. But you know, I retired before Google came online, so I have a very different perspective about history. During this time, Brian Pinkerton had WebCrawler already running. He was a grad student and he was running it on one computer on his desk. I was a faculty member, I had four computers available to me, so I was able to out hardware him.

Lycos basically took over from WebCrawler as the best place to be. But within the first year it became completely overloaded, and we used to say it was the slowest useful thing on the Internet. It was still worthwhile to be able to do your web search, but you’d have to wait as much as a minute or two for a search, so I went to the university, I got funding, we got more computers, we made it more usable. And then from there it was a race constantly adding more computing power to keep up with the demand from the world, that was the start of Lycos.

Aaron Dinin:

Could you give a bit more insights into what the search engine landscape was like back then, when you’re first building Lycos? I think we’re so far removed from it now that it’s kind of hard for people to even imagine a world pre-Google.

Fuzzy Mauldin:

Well, you got to remember. Okay. In 1993, when the web came out just before the web, if you wanted to search something, you either were a lawyer, or a newspaper reporter, or you went to your local library. And these people had Lexis and Nexis. And you would pay a couple of hundred dollars a month to have access to a searchable database of news or legal documents, there was no free search. If you went to the library, you could say to the librarian, I would like a list of news articles with this headline and the librarian would bring it back, but that’s because the library paid that subscription fee for the data service, so that was search in 1993. In 94, Brian Pinkerton’s search engine was the first one I used, that was in February. But there were others, I didn’t really use Archie much, but I had used it. And that’s how people got stuff around on Gopher and FTP.

Aaron Dinin:

If you’ve listened to our conversation with Alan Emtage in Web Masters episode number 21, you already know that Archie is largely considered the first Internet search engine, and if you haven’t listened, well, why not? Go download it now so that you can get the full story right after you finish this one.

Fuzzy Mauldin:

During 1994, several things started at the same time, Infoseek was Steve Kirsch, Architext which later became Excite. I think they probably started before me, but they weren’t publishing any papers in the conferences, so that was the way you found out whether something was happening, you’d go to a conference on IR, like I went to Germany in 94 and we all talked to each other, so you find out who’s working. One guy you have to talk to is David Eichmann, who was working at NASA, the RBSE Spider. And he was doing all this stuff years before everybody else, but the problem was he was doing it for NASA, so he couldn’t get rich.

Aaron Dinin:

Could you actually talk about that for a moment? When did it become clear that search could be a lucrative business?

Fuzzy Mauldin:

You had Brian Pinkerton who was doing it as a grad student, so he could get rich. I mean, he sold his search engine for a million dollars to AOL.

Aaron Dinin:

Brian Pinkerton, by the way, founded a search engine called WebCrawler as a graduate student at the University of Washington.

Fuzzy Mauldin:

But he couldn’t get really, really rich. I was in the sweet spot, I was faculty at Carnegie Mellon. That meant that I got half and the university got half, that was a nice deal. If you were at a company, I worked at Westinghouse as a consultant. Anything I did for Westinghouse, totally owned by Westinghouse, I got nothing. We had an award-winning product that generated a patent, I didn’t even get a plaque. The employee who worked there got a plaque, I just got to mention.

Aaron Dinin:

How’d you productize Lycos? How did it go from an academic project to a lucrative business?

Fuzzy Mauldin:

Okay. Well, at the time the Dean of the School of Computer Science was Raj Reddy, very savvy guy, was not opposed to business or making money. And I went to him with this chart, showing usage going up exponentially and said, okay, this is an opportunity. Anytime you’re gathering that many eyeballs in one place, it’s worthwhile. I got it all ready, and I call him. I said, okay, I’d like to meet with you about this. And he says, can you come now? That was a great thing about Raj, you never called him before you were ready because he wouldn’t schedule a meeting. He would always say, come now, because if it was important enough to talk to him, it probably was important to get it done.

I went to him, he looked at it and he says, okay, we’ll give you $200,000. You have a year to pay me back. Now as a new faculty with not nearly any income, this was more money than I could have imagined. But I said, okay. And I went and I had a year to figure out how to pay him back. We grabbed the domain, lycos.com, we hired a few people, we bought some computers, and in the meantime the university says, no, you’re not going to pay him $200,000. We want in on this, so the university gave me $250,000, not 200. Under the same deal, I still had a year to pay them back, so they were fighting over me already.

Aaron Dinin:

What made your way of doing search so valuable and exciting? How did it compare to the other search engines that were out there?

Fuzzy Mauldin:

There’s a couple of things in the Lycos patent that allowed Lycos to be smarter with less work. One of them was basically a data fusion claim. We didn’t have to download a document to be able to index it properly or serve it up to you. And that saved a lot of bandwidth for the university and for the world, so by being smart about what we downloaded, we could do data fusion to show you pictures, even if we hadn’t looked at the picture. And also we were very clever about where we went next, we had what we called a smart spider. And if you look at the Lycos patent from 1995, that’s actually what the patent is about. If you have the whole web, how do you know where to go next? You could grab any document at random.

Well, this document has more links to it, sounds a lot like citation analysis because that’s basically what it is, we called it popularity. And that was claim 23 of the Lycos patent in 95, later on Google would turn that and they called it page rank. And I think that’s meant to be after Larry Page, not webpage, but you’d have to ask him when you get a chance. They actually were stepping on our patent for the entire life of the patent. They got out of it by giving Carnegie Mellon a building, I didn’t get a building. Carnegie Mellon got a building, so Google never got sued.

Aaron Dinin:

Okay, so Lycos was better and faster than its competitors, but you owed Carnegie Mellon $250,000 at that point, right? How did any of that speed and efficiency translate into making money? Was it advertising, was that the business people were excited about?

Fuzzy Mauldin:

Remember I told you that Lycos didn’t just grab the documents. It built an abstract of each document that could be put into a search, that was a derivative product. We could take all of the abstracts we collected, put it into a catalog. And we now had something that looked like a database that we could turn around and sell to people, or license to people because it was derivative works, we’re not reselling people’s webpages. And we did a contract with Microsoft and that was their first search product was based on our spidering, so I paid the university back within six months instead of a year. We didn’t just sell it to Microsoft, that was one of our biggest contracts. We sold it to a company in Minneapolis that would turn around and they would make a CD-ROM of the Internet, so you subscribe and every month you’d get a CD-ROM that you would plug into your computer and you could search the web.

And then when you knew where you wanted to go, you would call up AOL and you’d log into the Internet, and you knew where you wanted to go, so you would save phone costs because you could search before you went. And that was only possible because we could sell our database. Nobody else could sell their database, their database was here, here’s a million webpages that we slurped off of the web and you try to sell it and you’ve got copyright problems, so we had a legal model that was different that allowed us to have that as a product. But very shortly, everybody was online all the time, so the idea of searching before you went somewhere, wasn’t very helpful. It was kind of cool to be able to search the web while you’re on a plane, but eventually the web got too big to keep even the titles on one CD.

We’re not talking DVD, we’re talking CD, so advertising was the obvious thing. I don’t think we were the first to advertise on the web. I think we were the first search engine to advertise on the web. From there it just became clear that it needed to be a company. If you want to do anything in the universe and have it last a long time, you need a company. And the university was also interested in getting rid of me because at one point in 1995, half of the Internet traffic going to Carnegie Mellon was me, it was Lycos, so there was me and everyone else in the university, and we were sharing the network connection. And that wasn’t tenable, especially since everything was doubling every three months.

A month later, I would be using all the university’s network, so we went to the tech transfer office, we formed a search committee, we started looking for funding, we found CMGI Interactive and they gave us $2 million and 20% of a company called Lycos, which we incorporated on July 5th, 1995, so Lycos was formed in July of 1995. Founded the company and went and hired people to run the company. We found offices downtown got out of the university, got our own Internet connection, so I didn’t go into this looking to be a business. I had an idea and discovered that business was the only way for the idea to live.

Aaron Dinin:

Fuzzy is making a very important distinction here. Lots of people conflate entrepreneurship and business, but those two things aren’t synonyms. Entrepreneurship is about problem solving and finding better ways to do things. Sometimes the optimal way to solve a problem is through a business, but not always. It made sense for Lycos, but that doesn’t mean every invention has to become a business. What matters is whether or not the invention can be tied to a viable business opportunity.

Fuzzy Mauldin:

It’s a hard thing to explain to someone who’s going to school for business. It’s like, okay, fine. What are you going to sell? I don’t know yet, I’m going to learn business. And I’m thinking, no, you need to learn how to make something that no one else is making, and then the business parts other people can do for you. We need a heck of a lot of business people. We hired Bob Davis, he’d been at Wang. His basic job was, he was a best salesman for computers at Wang. And he turned around and he sold Lycos to the world, and he did a great job of it, and he made me fabulously wealthy, so a salesmen was important, it was critical to the whole thing, but you need a product first, okay.

I remember when we were going public. We’d go into all these venture capitalists and you’d walk in and there’d be stacks and stacks of prospectuses over the floor, on the desk, there were prospectuses everywhere. And we walk in and we barely have a business plan, but what we say is, we got 4 million eyeballs and we’re looking for someone to help us make it 40 million eyeballs. That’s an easy business proposal. It’s easy to explain to someone why they should invest with you when you’re resource limited, and it’s keeping you from making even more money. That’s a good proposition to give to someone.

Aaron Dinin:

But that wasn’t magic, right? Having 4 million eyeballs. I mean, how’d you get those first users that would become so valuable?

Fuzzy Mauldin:

It was all word of mouth. We did have one event that really put us on the map back in November 1994, there was this new web browser called Netscape. And Netscape was in all the computer magazines, so everybody who wanted to surf the web would go to Netscape, and Netscape had a search button. When you clicked that search button, it would give you six choices. Well, they did a bake-off and without asking anybody, they would just go to each search engine and type in the word surf, and then they ranked the six search services by how many different documents they found. And this is the one that got the Infoseek people really mad because they had indexed more pages with the word surf than we had, but because of the data fusion abilities that we had, we can bring up a page just based on what the link says.

We found three times as many webpages that talked about surfing as they did, so with less work, we did three times their output, so we got the number one ranking on the search button, and then it was Infoseek, and Excite, and Yahoo, and I forget who else. And that event, when everybody would download the Netscape browser, we were the default search engine, that put us on the map like nothing else had. We were still growing before that because people would say, Hey, you should try this. I used it and it worked. We got a lot of that kind of organic growth. We did do some marketing while we were going public, but honestly, I don’t think the marketing was that big a deal. If you were online, you had these different things and Lycos gave you really, really good answers. It had a lot of experience from my thesis.

If you put more words in the search, Lycos would find more things for you. And if something in the result had more of those words, it would bubble to the top, so if you put in 10 words and something had nine of them, it’d be right at the top. But most search engines, if you put in 10 words it will say, I can’t find anything with all 10 of those words. That happens today, this is 25 years later, so we did some things that were obvious to someone with a background in information retrieval that made it a very user-friendly experience. That was how we grew, it was word of mouth, punctuated with bake-off stuff, so if you’re good, they’ll find you. Nowadays, that’s even more true because there’s search engines out there. And if you’re bad, Yelp will tell you so.

Aaron Dinin:

Okay, so here’s where I have to put on my entrepreneurship professor hat and say, maybe nobody listening to this should run out and follow the Lycos growth strategy for their new startup. 1995, 1996, that was a very different time in Internet history, organic discovery and word of mouth was much more part of the culture, and the overall noise level online was much, much, much softer. Please don’t just expect that if you build something good, people are going to magically discover it. And also don’t expect a major company to randomly feature whatever you’ve built. That’s a terrible growth strategy for a new Internet company in the 2020s. But back in the mid 1990s, it worked for Fuzzy and it allowed him to turn Lycos into a successful business, though to be fair, it’s not a business he had any interest in running.

Fuzzy Mauldin:

I had never planned to be part of the company. I used to tell people I was a success, okay. Because, Yang and Filo when their company went public. Yeah, they got stock, but they had to work there for four years or their stock would go away. They were chained to their creation for four years. Yang and Filo did Yahoo, Lycos and Yahoo who were really the big two things in 95, 96. I had written everything up, I had packaged it, and I created patents for it, here’s the code, here’s the people that I hired to work on it, and I pushed it out to a company. I don’t work for the company, I was planning to go back to the university and continue to be a researcher. But in less than six months, Lycos decided to go public. And in order to go public, they needed somebody who could go around to the VCs and explain the tech, and when you asked a question about how it worked, I didn’t have to think, I knew, I could inspire confidence, right?

I had to go to work for the company as a chief scientist, so I went to work for a year to help sell the company to Wall Street and explain it. After we went public, the company wanted to go to China and I said, I’m not going to China. Well, you can’t be the face of the company if you can’t represent us. And I said, fine, get someone else, so we did. Someone who actually I had been on his thesis committee, took over for me as chief scientist and he did a great job, so I was replaceable apparently, and I don’t mind being replaceable. That’s why I pulled back, and they were keeping me on at a very modest salary to keep my non-compete from starting. Once they realized I had no desire to go back, they didn’t need to waste money keeping my non-compete clock, so they said, well, okay, it’s time for you to go. And I said, fine, bye. And it was a very amicable parting, you know? And they succeeded without me.

Aaron Dinin:

When you look at something like what Google has become, do you have any regrets that you didn’t push further with Lycos? Do you think you could have gotten it to that level?

Fuzzy Mauldin:

Well, first of all, I’d like to point out one thing that I think is born out by the history. Lycos was the biggest search engine ever made by one guy. Anything that ever became bigger was a team of people, so if I wasn’t willing to share the work, the design, the brain with somebody else, I was never going to go beyond that. It’s the biggest thing one guy could make. Google was Larry and Sergey, took three guys to do AltaVista, Steve Kirsch he built Infoseek, but we got bigger than him. Architext was six guys I think, and that became Excite, so the short answer is no, I don’t have any illusions that I would have made it better. Some of the things that Google did in the beginning were made possible because they weren’t worried about money, their difference was, Hey, we’re not selling and advertising on the front page.

We’re not going to just plaster people with ads it was like here’s a box, and a white screen, type what you’re looking for. That was a bold thing to do. It was made possible because they had really deep pockets funding them at that point. And then when you did type something, they could show you an ad and they could charge more because they could base it on what you typed. And we’d already been doing that kind of stuff for years. But that thing that differentiated them was made possible by money that simply didn’t exist when we started as a company in 95.

Aaron Dinin:

How do you feel about how the search industry has evolved since you left it? Specifically, what do you think about it? Having really just one dominant player?

Fuzzy Mauldin:

Yes. Let me put it this way, okay. It’s never good for one person or a small group of people to have that much power over people. I think it was CS Lewis who said that being in charge of other people is a job that only one man in a million can do. And the one who’s good at it doesn’t want the job, so having that much power is bad. But putting that aside, I have nothing but deep, profound respect for Google for realizing that the engineering of the product is more important than the marketing. Which was not something that was often true in the early search services, we were all cash poor, we had to make money before we could do anything, so they have Google Maps, Google Earth.

Some of the stuff that they have done is just nothing short of astounding, it’s a boon. We just bought a ranch, so being able to fly over the ranch in Google Earth and see who the neighbors are and stuff that’s critical. And I can do that because the people at Google have brought together thousands upon thousands of really smart people and gotten them to work on important problems, so is Google good or bad? Some of the stuff they do is amazingly good. Is it bad for anyone to have that much power over you? It’s a temptation. I wish they were still trying not to be evil.

Aaron Dinin:

I mean, maybe if you had agreed to work for them all those years ago, they wouldn’t have become so evil.

Fuzzy Mauldin:

I’d probably be evil-er than average, okay. That’s the thing, it’s not about the people, it’s about the situation you’re in. I’m not saying I’d be any better than them, just the opposite. I’m not even sure Lycos would have been a success if I’d have been in charge much longer, so I’m humble about what I might have accomplished and I’m proud of what I did accomplish and in no small measure surprised.

Aaron Dinin:

And when you look back at what you built, what surprises you most about the impact of Lycos?

Fuzzy Mauldin:

I have one, I have one very clear thing, okay. Before me, search was something you paid hundreds of dollars a month for, to Midata. After Lycos, now Lycos was in there with a bunch of other people, so it wasn’t just me. After Lycos, after Infoseek, after WebCrawler, after Excite, after Yahoo, after we were done in 1995, search was free. Nobody could charge for search because there was free search available, and you can’t beat free as a price, so what that means is that the sum total of the world’s knowledge is available to everyone on the world who can get to the Internet. And with cell phones, that’s most of the people on the planet and none of them pay, directly anyway, for their searches. I’m very proud of that. I helped. I’m not the only one, but that’s an accomplishment that stands out above everything else.

Aaron Dinin:

And to be fair, democratizing the world’s access to information is a pretty cool accomplishment. I’d say it’s one Fuzzy definitely deserves to be proud of, though it also probably has its drawbacks.

Fuzzy Mauldin:

One of the things that I’ve had, there are very few people on earth who’ve ever had, is a screen at their desk, showing every search query on the Internet, as it comes by. It will destroy your hope in mankind if you see that.

Aaron Dinin:

And maybe that’s the real reason Fuzzy took his early retirement. Regardless, Lycos would of course go on to be one of the most impactful companies on the early web, competing with Yahoo and Excite for market share and would ultimately be acquired by Terra networks, which was the Internet arm of the Spanish telecommunications giant Telefonica, in a deal worth around $12.5 billion. Not sure that was such a great purchase for them in the longterm, but you know, that’s probably a different story. Fuzzy was long retired by then and thanks to a success with Lycos, deep into a new career.

Fuzzy Mauldin:

It was a very exciting time, I’m glad to have been a part of it. That’s what funded my foray into fighting robots for two decades, so that’s what I’m famous for now.

Aaron Dinin:

Yes, you heard correctly fighting robots. If the name Fuzzy Mauldin was familiar to you at the start of this episode, but not because of Lycos. It’s probably because he spent a long time as a prominent competitor in robot combat, the kind of stuff featured in television shows like BattleBots and Robot Wars, which honestly sounds like a fun way to spend a retirement, certainly better than talking with random podcast hosts about the distant past, so a huge thanks to Michael “Fuzzy” Mauldin for taking the time to share his story and the story of Lycos, and thanks to all of you for listening. If you enjoyed the episode, be sure you’re subscribed on your favorite podcasting app, so you get the next episode as soon as it’s released. And hey, why not share it with some friends too?

If you have any thoughts, comments, or feedback, let us know. We’re on Twitter @webmasterspod.

I’m on Twitter too @aarondinin, that’s A-A-R-O-N-D-I-N-I-N. You can also find lots of articles and other great content about startups and entrepreneurship over on my website, aarondinin.com.

Thank you to Ryan Higgs, our audio engineer for his help pulling together this episode. And a thanks to our sponsor Latona’s. If you’re interested in buying or selling an Internet business, don’t forget to check out latonas.com.

That’s it for this episode of Web Masters, I hope you enjoyed it. And I hope you’ll join me again soon for our next episode, which is coming in just a few days. For now though, time for me to sign off.

[OUTRO]

Aaron Dinin:

By the way, before we end this recording, I’m pretty sure I already know the answer, but I’s really love an audio clip of you explaining where the name Lycos comes from. Could you help with that?

Speaker 3:

Lycos comes from Lycosa Lycosidae, which is the wolf spider. The Lycos mascot was a wolf spider. And a wolf spider is different from other spiders. Most spiders build a web and then they sit there and wait for things to come to them. The wolf spider is a hunting spider, it goes out and it hunts down its prey and brings it back and eats it. And that’s the way Lycos works. It wasn’t like AliWeb, which says here I’ll index the web, when you put up a webpage, come here and tell me what’s on it. People wouldn’t bother with the second step and you can never find them. With Lycos once your page was on the web, as soon as anybody else linked to it, we could find it, we could index it, and everybody could find you, so we would go hunting for the information, bring it back home, chew it up, and digest it, and then we provide it, so that’s why Lycos was like the wolf spider.

Aaron Dinin:

All right, thanks. A spider that hunts you down, that sounds like a very friendly mascot for sure.