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Revamped Deja News debuts

The company says it has changed its name and unveiled new features aimed at making it more of a competitor in the active Web community space.

Deja News today said it has changed its name and unveiled new features aimed at making it more of a competitor in the active Web community space.

The changes, first reported by CNET News.com, include a switch to the name and address Deja.com as well as the addition of a ratings service and e-commerce links, the company said.

Deja News, which formerly dubbed itself "the discussion network," was called "the people-powered information exchange" in a beta version of Deja.com obtained by CNET News.com last month. Now a caption on Deja.com reads: "Share what you know. Learn what you don't."

The Deja Ratings feature lets users rate products and services in more than 400 categories and read one another's opinions, the company said. In addition, "recognizing that many consumers want to act online once they've made a decision, Deja.com now provides a variety of contextual links to e-commerce retailers and vendors throughout the site," Deja said in a statement. A company representative wasn't immediately available for comment.

The firm's moves are an effort led by chief executive Tom Phillips--the former head of Disney's ESPN Internet Ventures, who joined Deja News in December 1998--to place Deja more firmly in the mainstream Net community space to attract more advertising dollars. In addition, the e-commerce links provide another new revenue stream.

But Deja faces competition from a number of big players in the Net community space. Along with established community players such as GeoCities--whose acquisition by Yahoo is pending--and TheGlobe.com, several large media companies also are getting into the community game in an effort to cash in on their well-known offline brands. Warner Bros. Online, for example, in January launched AcmeCity, a community site that allows users to build Web sites with authorized content from Warner Bros.'s movie, television, music, and animation properties.

In addition, analysts have pointed out that Deja's brand was built on its flagship offering, which corralled newsgroup postings and made them easy to participate in or scan for research purposes. But portal sites such as Yahoo launched discussion groups of their own, which created formidable competition for Deja in that the forums are one of many services the portals offer, such as free email, stock quotes, and the like.

Still, the company's "move in an e-commerce direction isn't surprising," said Lisa Allen, an analyst with Forrester Research. "We see more of a blurring of the lines between content and commerce--its a strategy that many sites are employing."

Moreover, "If [Deja is] looking to monetize the eyeballs they have, they don't have a lot of options," Allen added. "Ads aren't doing it for them. Subscriptions don't seem to work on the Web, with very few exceptions. So what's left? E-commerce."

Allen noted that the ratings, which she dubbed a "populist version of Consumer Reports," could present a challenge for Deja if it lets the ratings become inundated with public relations spam or if disgruntled employees or former employees use them as a forum to disparage a company or its products, for example.

"What they're selling in large part is the credibility of the ratings," Allen said, adding that management of the ratings will be vital.

The changes are not the first for Deja, which launched in May 1995. The site was relaunched in June 1998 with a face-lift that included categorizing its content similarly to the portals.

Along with Deja Ratings, the company has added the following:

• Deja Tracker, which alerts users via email when discussions they are following are updated with new messages.

• Deja Shopper, which offers two choices for users wanting to make purchases. "Shop New" offers links to retailers with particular items being discussed, along with price and other information. "Shop Used" searches through the site's database of classified ads to find products being sold by other Deja users.

• Email discussion forums, which allow users to subscribe to mailing lists for archived Deja discussions. Users can specify how often they want to be emailed new posts.