Set to be introduced at a conference of newspaper publishers, Homebase StoreFronts is expected to used by more than 200 local media sites around the world by year's end, according to company executives. The list of licensees includes the Washington Post.
Developed by AltaVista's Zip2 unit, Homebase StoreFronts aims to expand "local portals" created by newspaper and media sites. The first Zip2 partner to use its e-commerce capabilities will be the Houston Chronicle's Houston4U.com; the New York Today site of the New York Times also runs on Zip2 technology.
The move puts renewed pressure on Ticketmaster CitySearch, which has similar local store-hosting capabilities in major markets around the country. It also could affect Microsoft's America Online's Digital Cities, and Yahoo's regional sites.
"It is directly competitive with what Ticketmaster-CitySearch is doing and with what any other local Internet site would be offering local merchants," Bruce Murray, Zip2's vice president of marketing, told CNET News.com in an interview from Chicago, where the new program is to be unveiled.
The announcement follows a series of high-profile moves by AltaVista in the last week. Earlier today, CNET News.com reported that AltaVista intends to roll out a free dial-up ISP service in conjunction with start-up 1stUp.com.
Separately, AltaVista today unveiled a new stock and finance channel, along with personalized pages to compete more directly with the popular My Yahoo and My Excite. AltaVista will spend $10 million to market these features in the next ten weeks.
Like the finance channel and customization, the effort to host e-commerce is essentially a bid to make up lost ground, at least with Yahoo, which bought a storefront hosting operation called Viaweb in June 1998. Yahoo has not emphasized its localized hosting operations, however.
"We have staked out the local space with local media company partnerships," said AltaVista's Murray, noting that Zip2's local portal client list includes newspaper chains Hearst, McClatchy, and Freedom Newspapers. In Canada, phone carrier Telus has launched MyBC.com in Vancouver, B.C., and plans to roll out sites in other Canadian cities. Paris' well-known Le Figaro is another licensee.
Zip2's services include sports, news, personal finance, community aspects, Web directories, Web searching, and free email. The store-hosting service is slated to roll out by September.