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Netscape portal wants you

Netcenter launches its My Netscape personalization page, the latest in a flurry of changes and additions to the site.

Netscape Netcenter today has formally launched a live beta version of its My Netscape personalization page, a day after the company quietly premiered it through a link on the page.

Though technically still in beta, the page will not change its functionality or features once the final product is formally rolled out, a company spokesman said. He added that today's launch was stalled because the company had to wait for clearance from each of its content partners before My Netscape went live.

The site's formal debut, as reported earlier, is the last major phase of Netscape's aggressive "Project 60" initiative to build Netcenter into a competitive Web portal challenging the likes of Yahoo and

The site can be entered through a link on Netcenter or by a button on Netscape's Communicator 4.5 browser, which went into public beta this month.

The site's personalization features are similar to those that have been offered for months by other portals, such as customized stock quotes, news headlines, horoscopes, weather forecasts, and content channels.

But Netscape executives said the new service distinguishes itself through enhanced technology. For instance, when users register with the site they get Web tools called "Weblets" that include such things as a calculator, an address book, or a list of predetermined bookmarks.

"It's a different outlook on doing things," said Eckart Walther, the product manager for My Netscape. "Building client and user-based services is a way to provide value to users that's not just content but applications."

My Netscape is part of the company's strategy to build a portal site that is so comprehensive and so alluring that users will flock to it by the millions. Analysts have said repeatedly that only a few sites will survive as Web portals.

Netcenter has intense competition from sites that offer nearly identical features, such as free email and stock tickers. Many sites even look very similar, no coincidence as rivals can scarcely avoid joining the latest trends in the fiercely competitive environment.

In fact, Net users are increasingly expecting lots of freebies from their portals. Personalization is seen as one of the most important offerings, in that it allows Netizens to customize pages according to their own tastes and interests. For instance, people often use the features to add their favorite stock tickers, as well as local weather and news reports.

Analysts have also been touting personalization as an effective way to increase customer retention, developing a more consistent audience through customer loyalty. That loyalty, the thinking goes, will in turn yield higher advertising rates.

Netcenter has been undergoing extensive renovation since it launched in September. In January, it was added to Netscape's front door.

Netscape got into the portal race comparatively late but came equipped with a powerful advantage: Because the Netscape home page is the default start-up for users of its Navigator browser--which still enjoys a majority market share--the company has an instant audience tens of millions strong for whatever it chooses to put on its front door.

Interestingly, the front door of My Netscape will not serve advertisements, a decision that Walther said stems from a desire to minimize download times. However, Walther said users will be served ads when they click into a story or a service.

"Even though we may take a revenue hit, the point is to provide something that anybody can set a home page to," Walther said. He added that My Netscape will be further integrated into future versions of Communicator software.