Where To Look For What You Need

Looksmart was originally founded in 1995 in Australia under the name Homebase by the couple Evan Thornley and Tracey Ellery. A majority shareholder was Readers' Digest. In 1996 NetGet Ltd. was founded in the USA, which took care of building one of the most comprehensive online directory services and which was soon renamed Looksmart. The head office was moved from Melbourne to San Francisco.

LookSmart's web directory was very successful as a third-party search content provider, with users such as HotBot, MSN Search, Excite. A search has been offered since 1998. The results first displayed content from the directory and then complemented it with content from AltaVista. In 2002 LookSmart acquired WiseNut, which uses link popularity and the importance of a website in the web community as a ranking basis. As a result, LookSmart combines its web directory with the WiseNut search engine. In January 2003 Looksmart buys the distributed crawler service Grub. The Grub content is added to the WiseNut content. Thematically, vertical search offers follow for news from magazines and comparable web offers, cars, education, music, etc. Looksmart entwickelt sich zum Webportal mit Chat, EMail, Wetter u.a.m.

Over the next few years, Looksmart concentrated in particular on the online advertising business. From 2008 to 2013, no search was offered at all. A search has been offered again since summer 2013. Currently the offer seems to be a search interface, which Yahoo uses as a search base.

Language English

Launched »In 1998 LookSmart adds a search box...« [Loren Baker, 2006]
Closed No

Developer Thornley, Evan; Tracy Ellery; Martin Hosking

Country of Origin Australia


Topic Universal

Region No Limitation

Technical functionalities
Web directory
Robot/Crawler based, algorithmic search
Community of distributed web crawler
Pay Per Inclusion Search Engine
Pay-per-click (PPC) search engine

Used SeEn WiseNut

Robot: WiseNut Robot (Source)

Robot: Grub (Source)

Older Version Internet Archive / WebCite

»... LookSmart has been busy rewriting the WiseNut code to incorporate it into their business plan and mesh the WiseNut search engine with the LookSmart directory. WiseNut now backs up LookSmart directory listings.« »WiseNut provides backup search results to LookSmart.« Source

2003: »LookSmart is taking a new approach to discovering web content, offering a free downloadable screensaver program that also crawls the web when your computer is idle. The program is Grub, the distributed crawling service that LookSmart bought in January for $1.4 million.

Most crawlers are centralized, run from each search engine's data centers. Grub, on the other hand, runs from the computers of anyone who has downloaded and installed the Grub client. LookSmart plans to use the information gathered by Grub crawlers to supplement the centralized crawls run by its Wisenut search engine.

"Fundamentally, the first problem we're trying to solve with our acquisition of Grub is that we know about many more documents than we can actually retrieve and analyze right now," said Peter Adams, chief technology officer of LookSmart. "We know about over 10 billion URLs right now, and we see that trend growing in terms of web pages that are being added."

[...] "Our first objective is to build a community of distributed web crawlers that will allow us to crawl all of the web documents every day," Adams said. "Not necessarily to index them all, but to assemble a database of information about them -- what's new, what's dead, what's changed."

The Grub crawler visits a list of essentially random URLs sent down from a central server. It retrieves pages and analyzes them, creating a "fingerprint" of a document, a unique sort of code that describes the document. Each time a page is crawled, Grub compares the new code to the old code. If it's different, that signals there's been a change to the page.

"Instead of crawling and send everything back, we only have the crawlers send back changed information," said Adams. This intermediate analysis of a page is impossible for centralized crawlers to perform, since they must retrieve a page and store it in the search engine's database before any analysis can be performed.

LookSmart believes that this distributed approach to crawling will be vital to coping with the growth of the Internet, and assuring that search engines continue to produce relevant results.« Source

Danny Sullivan (2004): Search Engine Timeline »10/28/96 - LookSmart launches, backed by Reader's Digest.«

»June 1996 - LookSmart redesigns site, loses last vestiges of the Java interface it debuted with.«

»2/10/98 - HotBot adds a browsable directory of web sites to its service, a branded version of the LookSmart directory.«

»9/29/98 - RealNames and LookSmart announce that the RealNames service will be integrated into LookSmart in October 1998.«

»Jan. 1999 - Direct Hit announces the availability of personalized search results. LookSmart also announced as the company's newest partner to use its popularity engine results.«

»Feb. 1999 - Microsoft announced that it will integrate LookSmart directory listings into its MSN Search results.«

»Aug. 1999 - Excite announces it is to begin using LookSmart information for its directory. MSN Search unveils a new beta site that makes use of RealNames, LookSmart and AltaVista data. Direct Hit information is also offered.« Source

Sullivan, Danny (Mar 3, 2003): »Same As They Ever Were: ... LookSmart (1996- ): Launched in 1996, LookSmart remains the only search company to heavily depend upon humans to gather its primary listings. In 2002, LookSmart bought the WiseNut crawler to complement its human-powered results. Few people search at the LookSmart site itself. Instead, LookSmart acts as a provider to others needing search results. Its major partner is MSN.« Source

1999: »LookSmart Search , packs the best searching technology on the planet. Type in your query and Search will first find sites selected and reviewed by our editors, next it will hunt in AltaVista's index of over 30 million web sites.« Source

»In addition to the LookSmart database which is available here and at the LookSmart partners, Direct Hit results are also available via a "Top 10 Most Visited" link. If no hits are found in LookSmart, results from AltaVista are shown, and these may include RealNames results as well. LookSmart Live is a service more than a database that offers personalized email responses to questions. [...] It is not a complete list. Some prominent search services that use the LookSmart directory include AltaVista, Anzwers, MSN Search, Netscape, Excite, and Go2Net.« Source

CNET (2002): »LookSmart says it has completed its purchase of search engine technology company WiseNut in a stock deal valued around $9.25 million. San Francisco-based LookSmart plans to incorporate WiseNut's technology, which bases searches on link popularity and a site's importance in the Web community, into its own search products in the coming quarters. Currently, LookSmart bases its search on paid listings and editorial results. In a statement announcing the agreement, LookSmart CEO Evan Thornley said the addition of the WiseNut technology would lead to "exceptionally relevant and profitable" search products.« Source

Loren Baker (2006): »This search company began as a human edited directory of web sites. After a few years, it went public, acquired another directory, then a search engine technology, launched a pay per click search advertising service, and then acquired one of the first web bookmarking and tagging services.
Recently they’ve been focusing on niche content driven portals, tagging and social applications, Internet security and are expanding their paid search offering beyond search engines (one of their past search advertising partners was MSN) and into contextual.

In 1998 LookSmart adds a search box, People Search, Yellow Pages, Discussions and Shopping Search. The other tabs on the site include Chat, Email, Classifieds, Weather, Personals and News.

1999 brings a more sleek & streamlined design to LookSmart – The Google Influence? LookSmart also lowercases the letters in their logo.

LookSmart gets a bit funky in 2000 with left side alignment of their directory categories with branded logo and offerings towards the bottom of the page.

In 2001 we see a shift from information to business solutions as LookSmart heavily promotes its LookSmart listings paid search marketing program along with International Directories, Local City directories, and the marketing of their search technology for ISP’s and Portals.

2006, LookSmart re-capitalizes their name & rebrands as a content driven niche article and social searching entity. Find. Search. Save.

Beyond content and vertical search, they are still showcasing their strongest offerings; social bookmarking and LookSmart advertising & publisher solutions. « Source


»LookSmart is a double entendre, referring both to its selective, editorially compiled directory, and as a complement to users who are savvy enough to "look smart."« Source

Critical points

Features & Functionality


Example results page for "sand": Source

References & further Publications

Wikipedia (EN):
Wikipedia (Others):

Other Sources

The Rise and Fall of LookSmart. Online available at SEO Logic. URL:
LookSmart to Buy WiseNut URL:
Help LookSmart Crawl the Web URL:
Danny Sullivan (2004): Search Engine Timeline URL:
Sullivan, Danny (Mar 3, 2003): Where Are They Now? Search Engines We've Known & Loved URL:
LookSmart Adds Porn-Free Search to Net Nanny URL:
Metamend: LookSmart PPC Search Engine Internet Marketing URL:
LOREN BAKER (2006): 10 Years of LookSmart – Visual Timeline URL:
About us: What you see is what we do best URL:
About Us (1999): LookSmart: The Next-Generation Internet Directory URL:
Aaron Wall: WiseNut URL:
LookSmart – the Australian connection - 1996 URL:

Created: 2013-01-15