February 15, 2001 1:50 PM PST

Deja.com struggles after Google buyout

Deja.com, a popular newsgroup search service, has been hit with glitches after its buyout this week by Web search provider Google, ruffling the feathers of some longtime customers.

Google on Monday took control of Deja's Usenet archive, which contains some 500 million messages, pledging to keep the service alive. Rather than purchase the company's search engine and interface, however, Google opted to develop its own, promising big improvements within a few months.

But that's led to complaints by some Deja users, who say a new "beta," or test, service introduced after the buyout does not allow for some basic activities, such as posting comments and browsing newsgroups.

"It's cost me hours already to recover information I expected to be at my fingertips," said Cameron Laird, a software and publishing consultant. "I have a favorable impression of Google and hope to get along well with them in the long term. The switch has certainly disrupted my work this month, though."

Google President Sergey Brin acknowledged some bugs but said the company is working to fix the problems.

"After waiting these few months, users will have a much better service," he said. "Users are understandably upset because they can't post or browse (adequately)...We apologize for the lapse. But we want to create a new Google interface" for the service.

Brin further defended the buyout, saying the alternative would have been shutting down the service. When Google bought Deja earlier this week, the company was operating on a skeleton staff of 15 people, a fraction of its original work force after several rounds of layoffs.

"If we hadn't had this transaction, it would have been gone," Brin said.

Originally called Dejanews, Deja changed its name when it decided to focus on product reviews by consumers. But in December, the company sold the consumer-review Web site to eBay's Half.com. CNET Networks, publisher of News.com, has a stake in Deja.

Google's beta version of the service prevents people from following newsgroup threads or searching by hierarchies--such as "alt."--or by dates. Previously, Deja allowed people to search newsgroups by group, author, keyword or date.

Now the service is limited in its search capabilities to only eight months of data and doesn't allow postings. The service also is not updated as often as before, blocking readers from getting current data on the latest responses to their messages.

In full color, the revised newsgroup service will take on Google's spare look and let people browse through message lists, post comments, and access five years of data in a faster environment.

Google plans to sell advertising on the service once it's up and running within the next 90 days. Brin said the company may also look at licensing the archives.

Despite problems, longtime customers say they expect Google to get things sorted out eventually.

"The interim service is not very useful and lacks important features," said Stanislav Shalunov, an Internet engineer at an educational consortium in Armonk, N.Y., who said he has used Deja for recreation and professionally since its start in 1995. "But I'm sure they will be able to put the news archives to good use. The best place I could imagine to acquire those archives would be Google."

 

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