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Internet

Magellan cofounder finds email

Isabel Maxwell's last venture spawned the Magellan search engine. Now she's moving on to the email business.

As Isabel Maxwell puts it, the communications field "is part of my blood," so it should come as no shock that she's decided to move from the search engine to the email business as president of Commtouch Software.

The daughter of late British media baron Robert Maxwell left behind in June the company she cofounded, The McKinley Group--which ultimately spawned the popular Magellan search engine.

She got hooked on the Internet business in the early 1990s, when she and her twin sister Christine Maxwell were mourning the death of their father.

"We literally were trying to think about how to restart this whole [media]business," Maxwell said.

When they looked at the Internet, then barely in its infancy, they realized that was the place to go.

"Christine came up with the idea of reviewing and rating," Maxwell said. Their company, The McKinley Group, was born. By the time they sold the company to Excite for $19 million last June, Magellan, cofounded by the Maxwell sisters and Isabel Maxwell's husband, David Hayden, was a full-fledged search engine with detailed site ratings.

After McKinley, Maxwell said she wasn't necessarily pounding the pavement for a new job, but when an offer came in to join email company Commtouch as president, she found her new home.

Email, Maxwell said, is the pinnacle of communication.

"For communication, you can't beat it," she said. "The thing I really like about it is it's nontoxic. You can communicate with people beyond barriers."

Maxwell said she foresees a day when "everybody will have an electronic mailbox."

She added that Commtouch "has a very compelling product with excellent technology behind it."

The company has a two-fold marketing plan: It charges for its corporate product, but it gives its family and professional email packages away for free--with a catch. Customers agree to have advertising on their email.

Commtouch comes into a marketplace increasingly crowded with companies offering to "push" advertising to customers through applications that customers naturally use. PointCast is perhaps the best known of the genre; it created an interactive screensaver that runs animated advertisements. But PointCast has plenty of competition from others trying to push advertising to consumers, including companies promising free email accounts.

Juno Online Services, for instance, offers free email accounts in exchange for them allowing advertising.

But Maxwell said Commtouch will be attractive to those who want a full-service email product but don't want to pay for it. She added that consumers will take to Commtouch simply because she said they will find it to be a superior product.

The company has recently signed on ten strategic partners, including Sun Microsystems, Cisco, and Nippon Telephone and Telegraph.

Advertisers, always looking for a new vehicle to carry their messages, are sure to love the product, Maxwell said.

"Commtouch is ideally poised to take advantage of the shift of advertising dollars from broadcast and print to the Internet space," she added.