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Lycos ends environment site alliance

The portal abruptly ends its three-month relationship with EnvironLink, but says the move is not due to a protest by an opposing group.

Just three months after announcing its "innovative alliance" with environmental Web site EnviroLink, leading portal Lycos has abruptly terminated the relationship.

Both backers and retractors of EnviroLink are charging that the move came in response to a complaint and email campaign by another Web site about "radical" environmental content hosted by EnviroLink.

If nothing else the timing is, by all admissions, at least curious.

Lycos in May announced that it was forming a linking and financial relationship with EnviroLink in keeping with its "...commitment...to promoting important issues like the environment...," according to a statement from Lycos chief executive Bob Davis.

Earlier this month, Off-Road, a site dedicated to off-road racing, posted a scathing critique of EnviroLink and its relationship with Lycos, entitled "Search Engine Giant Sides with Radical Environmental Web Haven--May Soon Find Itself Searching For Customers." The article included a letter it sent to Lycos, encouraging the company to sever ties with EnviroLink and asking supporters to contact Lycos about the issue.

Specifically, Off-Road took issue with some of the 400 nonprofit Web sites that EnviroLink hosts, including several that are considered "radical" by all sides. For instance, some sites advocate what they call "direct action" and "civil disobedience," which others consider acts of terrorism.

Soon after, Lycos severed the relationship with EnviroLink.

Even Lycos attorney Jeffrey Snider acknowledges that the timing could have lead those in the anti-EnviroLink campaign to conclude that the events were connected.

"I don't blame them [for concluding that their campaign promoted Lycos to end its relationship with EnviroLink]," Snider said. "They made a complaint and asked that the site be taken down and the site was taken down."

He added, however, "The fact that the two occurred at the same time was coincidental."

Snider said Lycos terminated the relationship because "there is a fundamental disagreement about the intent of the contract," but would not elaborate because "the contract is confidential."

Snider added, however, that although Lycos' decision had nothing to do with EnviroLink's content, the Off-Road letter writers "pointed out to us some things about certain sites being served up under the EnviroLink domain that we didn't know about and we felt were misleading to our users. We will admit that it's misleading to our users to have those kinds of sites available [under a button that says] 'save the planet.'"

Still, he emphasized, "That was independent of our decision to take it down."

Josh Knauer, executive director of EnviroLink, said that EnviroLink takes no positions itself, but gives server space to a wide spectrum of environmental sites that run the gamut from liberal to conservative.

"We are a clearinghouse for the environmental community," he said. "Whether people like it or Lycos likes it, these organizations are part of the environmental community and they have a right to exist."

Snider of Lycos said that the portal still links to EnviroLink's sites but no longer features the site on its front door.

As for the business disagreements, Knauer said that his company "complied in all material respects to this contract and EnviroLink performed as was mandated in the contract.

"Basically I'm still not ready to say why Lycos dumped us, but there certainly seem some events occurring that have to be more than coincidental," he added.

Knauer said he learned that the relationship was terminated after returning from his honeymoon on Monday. An employee told him that as of that morning, Lycos was no longer accepting EnviroLink's content or linking to the site.

"Monday morning, folks told me we no longer had access to upload our content to Lycos," he said. "We also noticed that Lycos had stopped linking to our Web site."

Knauer called a Lycos editor to find out what was going on. "He said that the word came from above and they were no longer linking to us.

"I was a little shocked," Knauer added. At that point, he had his attorney contact Lycos. The attorney could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, on the same day, Knauer learned about the Off-Road posting. "Just before our lawyer spoke to their lawyer, we got notice of article that appeared in the Off-Road Web site that was quite uncomplimentary to our Web site," he said.

While Knauer said he can't say for sure why Lycos canceled the contract, Off-Road claimed in an online posting that "By initial indications, the factual article by Off-Road.com on the radical groups housed and supported by Envirolink.org has affected Lycos' decision to associate with and or provide support to Envirolink."

The posting goes onto cite an email message allegedly sent to its members by EnviroLink. Knauer said no one in his organization authored the letter, but supporters may have done so.

In fact, a Friends of EnviroLink independent Web organization is urging its own letter-writing campaign to Lycos, encouraging the company to reconsider its decision.

Regardless of why Lycos withdrew its support, Knauer said the bottom line is that EnviroLink is in serious financial trouble without the agreement.

Last year, the organization's budget was $180,000. The company had relied heavily on funding from Lycos and now is in search of new funding, he said.

"I would not venture a guess as to why they canceled this contract but I certainly speak of the effects that they have rashly taken," he said. "This agreement with Lycos was a major, major, major source of our funding for this year. We need to look toward other corporations that have the backbone to stand up and have free speech and free expression heard on the Internet."

Snider said Lycos advocates free speech for all and emphasized that "this has nothing to do with censorship."