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AltaVista beefing up

Search site AltaVista next week will add another new feature, part of Digital's ongoing effort to fatten it up to compete with other players.

Search site AltaVista next week will add a feature that aims to make it easier for Web surfers and product vendors to find each other.

AltaVista will debut its new search feature May 11, after a year of developing the service with technology provider Centraal. Dubbed RealName, the service taps into a database of company names and trademarks and takes users directly to the Web site that has information about the product or company they are seeking.

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AltaVista is going after newcomers to the Internet with the new search capability.

"This appeals to people who are looking for a particular site and can't remember a URL, and for whom the whole approach of typing in '' doesn't feel good," said AltaVista director of business development Abe Hirsch. "This is for the next wave of Net users, not those who have been on for the past three years."

AltaVista is also going after advertisers, who pay a flat subscription fee per name or trademark to be included in the RealName database. Companies and products not included in the database will turn up results, but the query will not send the user automatically to the site.

Under the terms of the deal, AltaVista and Centraal will share advertising and subscription revenues. The deal also includes an up-front payment to AltaVista for guaranteed minimum revenue. Exact figures were not disclosed.

The addition of the RealName service comes as AltaVista gears up to compete in the increasingly hot market among sites that aim to be a gateway to the Net, or "portal." Since the beginning of the year, AltaVista has added free email, foreign language translation of Web pages and other documents, travel services through a partnership with, and health information through a deal with IntelliHealth. AltaVista also has said it plans to add finance content and news.

AltaVista powers search queries on Pathfinder as well as and on LawCrawler and IntelliHealth.

Analysts have speculated that AltaVista owner Digital Equipment may be building out the search site in anticipation of Digital's impending sale to Compaq Computer.

"If you look at the portal marketplace, it makes a lot of sense" for Digital to be enhancing AltaVista's portal features in advance of closing the deal with Compaq, said Jupiter Communications analyst Patrick Keane. "Just the Wall Street valuation of the search and portal companies should leave Compaq foaming at the mouth at least a little bit--even if they don't have a particular interest in search."

Companies in the portal space have seen their stock valuations skyrocket in the past several months, and the various sites have been engaged in a race to match or exceed each other's features and services.

AltaVista has lagged behind the portal pack for the most part, adding key features such as free Web-based email many months after competitors have done so.

But Hirsch noted that both the brand searching capability announced today and the translation services added earlier are unique to AltaVista.

RealName is not the only brand search available, however. Idealabs' GoTo service also accepts payment from companies for search results. But unlike RealName, GoTo ranks a number of companies and services according to how much money they have paid, and does not automatically bring users to any company's site.