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Yahoo offers community building

Yahoo becomes the latest portal to offer the service, which allows end users to create their own closed communities.

Yahoo today became the latest portal to offer its own end-user community builder service, further indication of the breakneck pace at which portals are releasing products to remain ahead of the competition.

The new offering, called Yahoo Clubs, allows end users to create their own closed communities equipped with message boards, chat rooms, email, personalization tools, and photo albums.

In contrast to home page builders that have become the rage of the Web, community builders allow users to select their own members, who then interact using communications features on a platform more similar to forums. For example, club builders, called "founders," are able to select who can join each topic-specific forum and also have the ability to expel members from their closed networks.

The launch comes just one day after Excite launched a beta version of its own community builder based on back-end technology developed by recently acquired Throw. The two services are almost identical in both the features they offer and in the applications they are marketing for the service.

Both services are targeting users who wish to establish interactive forums based on specific topics. For example, these community builders see the service as an interactive tool for families and friends, organizations, and businesses.

However, the technology powering Yahoo Clubs is internal and was not the result of an acquisition or partnership with a provider.

The move into interactive communities for Yahoo is another indication of how portals are vying for the loyalty of Web users who are presented with many equally attractive offerings. Retaining consumers on a service also poses great advertising potential, since targeted banner ads can be served on every interactive page based on the hosted subject matter.

"Our goal is to attract [visitors] and create an environment where they want to stick around," said Jeff Mallett, chief operating officer at Yahoo.

Mallett added that the service also will be a way to transform Yahoo's 45 million monthly visitors into registered users, which currently number 18 million. Registering adds value to the portal because it tends to create loyal users.

"When someone stops and registers, it tends to be their primary point on the Web to be their portal," he said.

In the future, Yahoo plans to leverage its communities into a collection of "vertical databases" that can be organized according to subject matter, said Mallett. With the databases, Yahoo plans to create a new revenue stream by introducing an opt-in button that will allow direct marketers to send focused email promotions to the communities.

Community services such as Yahoo Clubs and home page builders have become the latest desire among portals. Just last week, Lycos acquired Web communications service WhoWhere, which adds home page builder Angelfire to its existing Tripod service. The acquisition boosted Lycos's home page builder audience to 3.1 million users under its network, the largest presence of its kind on the Web.