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Netscape ups portal efforts

Netscape will announce a trio of new offerings for its Netcenter portal site, with some additional features for its Navigator browser.

Netscape Communications tomorrow will announce both a redesign as well as a trio of new offerings for its Netcenter portal site. The company also will announce some additional features for its Navigator browser.

The new services come midway through the company's two-month-long push to build out Netcenter into a full-service Internet portal site. Portals aim to be surfers' point of entry onto the Web by offering email, Web searching, aggregated content, and other services.

Netcenter, which has signed 5 million members since its September 1997 launch, has not yet finalized the redesign. But a preview of the new site appears simpler and less cluttered.

Categories are described Portalopoly in one or two words and are more specific.

Netscape's six featured search engines, including its own branded engine, also are more prominent in the new design.

Netscape already has announced several new offerings for its portal, including free Web-based email, the Netscape-branded search engine, and expanded offerings for small businesses and job seekers.

The first of the new additions to Netcenter, which Netscape now is calling "Netcenter 2.0," is personalization, an increasingly common and expected portal feature. Dubbed "My Netscape," following Yahoo's "My Yahoo" and Excite's "My Excite," the new service will let users tailor their Netcenter start page to display content and services of their choosing.

Jennifer Bailey, Netscape's vice president for the Web site, said My Netscape would distinguish itself by targeting users who log on during the day at work as well as at home. Netcenter, which gets an atypically high proportion of its traffic during business hours, will provide those users with tools that will include Web bookmark management and an address book, in addition to the standard email account and search bar.

"We're taking personal home pages to the next level of functionality," Bailey said. "We're looking to offer a more generalized 'Web top' or home base for users."

The second of Netscape's announcements tomorrow involves new search methods, built into upgrades of Netscape's Communicator and Navigator browser software, that fall under the category of "Smart Browsing." The changes will affect Netcenter mostly in that they will rely on the portal's back end for search and directory data.

The first of these new search methods, Internet Keywords, essentially lets users skip a step in the search process by typing keywords directly into the browser location bar. In Netscape's example, the user would type "vw beetle"--rather than the full URL "http://www.beetle.de/"--to access Volkswagen's Beetle site. More general queries, such as "cars," would yield one of Netcenter's content channels.

Another modification of the browser will add a "What's Related" button that functions something like a bookmark list that is automatically generated when users visit a site. Netscape will develop this feature in conjunction with Alexa Internet, which gathers the "What's Related" links for individual Web pages.

Netcenter also will introduce a content screening service called "NetWatch," which relies on voluntary ratings supplied by Web pages, and gives parents or systems administrators the option of blocking unrated Web sites.

In addition to the personalization and browser offerings, Netcenter will announce an expansion of its SmartUpdate service for automatically updating various software products and notifying users by email of upgrades. Netscape currently offers the service for its own browser software, but now the company has signed agreements with more than 22 companies to offer free software and upgrades through SmartUpdate. These companies include Macromedia, 3M, and Atrieva.

With tomorrow's announcements, Netcenter comes to the halfway mark of its two-month construction project. Additions yet to be announced include channels for finance, local content, sports, news, entertainment, and family.