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Internet

Excite, Lycos get more personal

In the highly competitive portal market, two players expand their personalization features in an effort to keep viewers coming.

    Web search sites Lycos (LCOS) and Excite (XCIT) are elbowing each other today in the escalating battle to become the launchpad for Net surfers.

    Both firms are expanding their personalization features, which can be tailored to aggregate content based on personal interests. They are among several companies that began as search engines and are rapidly growing to draw more traffic.

    Other major players in this market of start pages, also known as "portals," are continually adding free services such as email, instant messaging, chat, and channels for customized news. Online services America Online and Microsoft Network are also beefing up their Web-based pages.

    The competitors all are jockeying for loyal viewers and the advertising dollars they attract. As the search services have built themselves up as aggregators and Net-based online services, Wall Street has responded. Last week, for example, Net stocks such as AOL, Yahoo, and Amazon.com experienced a surge that boosted the whole Internet sector.

    Lycos today debuted its "personal guide," a channel that allows users to customize online content, access a daily planner and contact manager, and alter their free Web page provided by Net community Tripod , which Lycos acquired in February.

    Excite made a similar move today, but its entire start page can now be tweaked by surfers. For the past two years, the search site offered My Excite Channel, which let visitors aggregate news headlines and stock quotes as well as store personal reminders for important meetings or events. My Excite Channel will eventually be phased out, but users' settings will roll over to Excite's home page.

    Excite wants to house all its personalization services--such as local TV listings--right on its home page, so users will log on to the service before they jump to other parts of the Net. In a few months, Excite also will integrate its free email service into the start page. MailExcite users who have the start page open will be alerted when they have mail and will be able to see if their friends using Excite PAL are online.

    "Our goal has been to be a personalizable, free online service," Joe Kraus, senior vice president and cofounder of Excite, said today. "The My Excite Channel has been one of 80 links on our front page. By making personalization what the service is about, it's really putting our money where our mouth is."

    Excite hopes that by moving away from the personal channel model now, it can be a leader in the personalized start page space. For instance, Yahoo seems to be sticking with its My Yahoo format, as the beta of its new look doesn't allow users to customize its front door.

    "My Excite's main competition has been My Yahoo, but personalization was always off in the corner for both services," Kraus noted. "Today, we're saying this is what our service is entirely about. It wouldn't surprise me if the competition follows. But being first to market is what it's about."

    Lycos also hopes to corner its share of the market by leveraging free email and Web page provider Tripod as well as daily planning features. PlanetAll will provide its Web-based contact management program to Lycos, which has agreed to become a minority shareholder in the company.

    "We're redefining what it means to start on the Net," said Mark Stoever, group product manager for communities and personalization at Lycos.

    "You'll get much more than a personalized newspaper that gives you news, weather, and stock quotes," he added. "We're combining those features with lifestyle management tools--an area to manage and edit home pages and check messages."

    Excite's stock jumped in trading today to close at 68-7/8, up 6-5/8. Lycos closed at 65-1/2, up 7/8.