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Wired strategy strays from search rivals

Wired Ventures is expanding the shopping area on its HotBot search site, but it is not a sign the company is joining the portal battle.

    While many Net search giants battle it out to offer the most add-ons to lure eyeballs, Wired Ventures has taken a different course with its search effort, HotBot.

    Wired Digital, the online media division of Wired Ventures, yesterday announced a deal with bookseller Barnes & Noble that includes the Net as well as brick-and-mortar stores. Barnes & Noble is the latest merchant to be added to the company's Shop Wired area, found on HotBot.

    The cobranded online bookstore will feature books written or recommended by Wired's staff, reviews, commentary, and preview chapters. Wired Ventures will receive a percentage of the sales that come from click-throughs from Shop Wired, according to Andrew de Vries, director of marketing communications for Wired Digital.

    De Vries declined to disclose the specific percentage, but said the company receives up to a 10 percent cut from all the merchants on Shop Wired, which include the Gap, Cyberian Outpost, Microsoft Expedia, and 1-800-Flowers.

    Although the shopping area is similar to those of search sites such as Yahoo, don't expect the free email, paging services, and Web space the others have to be offered on HotBot any time soon. Wired's goal with HotBot is not to make it a portal, unlike its search brethren, de Vries said.

    "We do offer stock quotes--but they are mostly tech-oriented stocks, for our Wired audience," de Vries said regarding the company's efforts compared to those of its search rivals. "It's not a goal of ours to become a giant portal site?we're looking to continue to build the Wired brand.

    "Wired's goal is to make HotBot the best search tool on the Web," he added.

    Undoubtedly, however, one of the company's goals is to generate revenue. Though de Vries sang the company's praises in terms of its growth over the past year--he cited a 400 percent leap in traffic on its Net properties from the second quarter of 1996 to the same period in 1997--Wired has suffered well-publicized financial troubles to the tune of layoffs, failed IPO attempts, and other problems.

    Looking ahead, however, Wired has ambitious plans for the shopping area, which the company views as a "viable and steady revenue stream for us that we see as having great potential to grow," de Vries said.

    De Vries noted that the company is planning to add new categories and new merchants to Shop Wired within the next six months, but declined to disclose any details. He cited a study by research firm @Plan, which found that HotBot users are more likely to shop on the Net than users of search rivals Alta Vista, Excite, Infoseek, Lycos, or Yahoo. For example, the study found that 16 percent of HotBot users shopped online for computer software, while only 8 percent of users of other search engines did so.

    As for the real-world end of the Barnes & Noble deal, some of the bookseller's stores will have displays that list Wired editors' book recommendations as well as the URL for the online store. The stores also will prominently display Wired magazine and books published by the company.