Before the rise of Google, even before the Lycos and HotBot heydays, there was Danny Sullivan.
Now, there’s the Danny Sullivan watch.
The oft-quoted, widely-read search engine expert who founded the Search Engine Watch online publication announced this week that he’s leaving parent company Incisive Media at the end of November.
Sullivan said he and the publication’s current owners failed to agree on a contract and that he expects his relationship with the Search Engine Strategies conferences to end as well.
His disciples want to know: Where will he go next? Why no contract? The news sparked enough chatter among bloggers and industry watchers to launch their own Danny Sullivan Watch blog. (Sullivan actually has one called Leaving Search Engine Watch.)
Sullivan founded Search Engine Watch in 1996 as a site to help others optimize their sites for search engines. In many ways, it marked the beginning of an industry.
He later sold to the parent company of this publication, Jupitermedia, in 1997.
Jupitermedia sold it on to Incisive Media in 2005 (Jupitermedia remains the parent company of internetnews.com).
Sullivan told internetnews.com the problem was Incisive Media’s reluctance to offer him a stake in the company.
“For the life of me, I can’t understand why [Incisive Media] would expect me to stay with them if they can’t give me a long term incentive to build their business,” Sullivan said.
“Incisive Media acquired the site and the offices last year. At the time, I said to them they would need to provide me a long term reason to stay with them. And they completely failed at that,” he continued.
“Dumb, dumb, dumb. Incisive Media just let Shaq walk out the door. They just lost their franchise,” wrote Jason Calacanis of AOL’s Weblogs network.
Industry watchers echoed the sentiment.
Jupitermedia CEO Alan Meckler called Sullivan’s departure a shame.
“We sold these properties to Incisive Media in July 2005 for about $43 million. One of the key ‘assets’ to owning these properties was Danny Sullivan,” Meckler wrote on his blog.
“The fact that [Sullivan] could not get [Incisive Media] to cut him in means the folks running his ex-company are really not paying attention to where value is created in the media world these days,” fellow search engine industry watcher John Battelle wrote on his blog entry about the news.
Sullivan said it’s why he felt he deserved a stake in his work.
“I’m sure that I was considered part of the assets,” Sullivan said.
“Maybe [Incisive] thought they were acquiring me. Until the point they talked to me the first time. That’s when I told them that if I were going to stay, they were going to have to set up a separate arrangement.”
(InternetNews.com was not able to reach an Incisive Media spokesman for comment by publication.)
Now his followers, of which there are many in the grown up search engine industry, want to know: Where can they catch Sullivan next?
“I don’t quite know what’s next,” Sullivan told internetnews.com.
What about joining up with one of the search engines themselves?
“I don’t think its likely,” Sullivan said.
“The difficulty in going with a search engine or marketing firm is that I’ve sat between the two and been fairly impartial. If I were to go either way it would put an end to the kind of work I’ve been doing.”
But another Web site or conference series could be in the cards, he added.
“I was quite content with what I was doing. The only reason that this is coming up is that the company made this deal and they acquired these properties, but they failed to acquire me.”