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AltaVista plans children's area

The up-and-coming portal will launch a new Family Zone later this year that includes a retooled children's search engine, sources say.

AltaVista will launch a new Family Zone later this year that includes a retooled children's search engine, according to sources close to the company.

AltaVista's new zone will help the portal player compete with others that are vying for the Net's younger surfers, such as Disney and portal firms such as Yahoo and Infoseek.

Although details Portalopoly are scant about the Family Zone, it is expected to launch by fall and will include an updated version of the Net Shepherd Family Search engine. The search engine is offline now, but was designed to filter "inappropriate or objectionable" Web sites based on the review of a panel of diverse Net users.

Last month, AltaVista quietly launched three new content channels or "zones."

AltaVista's other channels, such as its Finance Zone, offer free news and some pay-per-view features. The site has signed up exclusive partners such as for its zones. AltaVista declined to comment today on future partners for the Family Zone.

The search engine has continued to evolve into a full-fledged Net gateway, although its parent company Digital Equipment merged with Compaq Computer in June. But the site faces tremendous competition in the ongoing portal war.

The children's search space also is overflowing with veterans.

Disney introduced a children-oriented search engine last month, dubbed Dig, to solidify its relationship with wired families.

The children's guide also will be featured on Infoseek--in which Disney took a 43 percent stake last month.

AltaVista's Family Zone also will have to compete with Net heavyweight Yahoo, which features a children's search directory called Yahooligans. And in February, Inktomi announced a partnership with blocking software maker N2H2 to build a massive Net index for children that excludes links to pornography and other adult-oriented content.

Sites with hate speech or sexually explicit material or those promoting alcohol use or gambling also are left out of most children-oriented online directories.

Although the White House called on the Net industry in December to create tools for safer surfing, many filtering products don't always keep children out of online red-light districts, and critics say some children's search engines block out content with educational or social value.

According to an Electronic Privacy Information Center study issued in December, the AltaVista-Net Shepherd Family Search blocked out some pages from school Web sites around the country, as well as numerous pages for national organizations' sites, such as the Red Cross.