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Excite goes for the green

In a NEWS.COM interview, Excite executive vice president Brett Bullington talks of competition, user control, and portal e-commerce.

So much for the 60-day cushion.

That was the advantage time Yahoo thought it had secured over the competition after purchasing Portalopoly e-commerce company Viaweb. In Internet time, the thinking goes, two months is the biggest jump a company can expect. But archrival Excite is apparently working on the same clock, and it has already introduced auctioning services to its classifieds section. Others probably aren't far behind.

In an interview with CNET NEWS.COM, Excite executive vice president Brett Bullington spoke about the 60-day theory, as well as the virtues of giving users control to conduct their own transactions through all-in-one "portal" sites.

NEWS.COM: Now that you have an auction service where Excite users are given the power to conduct transactions through your free site, what kind of benefits are you trying to get from this service, and where do you see it going?
Bullington: The auction site is based in the classifieds product, and a logical aspect of classifieds is it's a place where people come.

Sellers come to sell stuff, and buyers come to buy stuff, and one the things that the Web brings you is an interactive nature. But traditional classifieds don't offer that, so I think what we're really trying to do there is to say, "How do you take traditional classifieds and allow interaction in that marketplace based upon the capabilities of the Internet?"

I think that's really what the auctions product does for us. It's the next thing of leveraging and allowing people to take a little more control over the way services or goods are bought and sold.

There are other some online services, such as AOL, where you can conduct transactions over their space. And that's one of the main things that has distinguished them from other Web services and how they've become so successful. Where do you see this auction service going?
One of the things that Excite does really well, and I think Yahoo does really well, is it aggregates a large number of consumers that are using our service to find things. And through doing that we're trying to expose our users to more products and services.

What e-commerce is really all about is trying to identify the right consumers that are coming through the service and getting them in front of the right kind of products so we can help provide that kind of service to our consumers, as well as provide a revenue opportunity for building the company. That's what e-commerce has always been about--how do you take your traffic, how do you channel your traffic, in a way that benefits from these opportunities.

The Web is at a very early stage. It's a strong vehicle for all types of commerce. I don't think it's a three-month, a six-month, or nine-month advantage here. I think it's an opportunity of saying how do we take our traffic, and how do we provide those opportunities to our consumers to find the things they're looking for, and from there put ourselves in a position where we can effectively build the right kind of business for us.

Is this a launch pad for Excite for future services?
I think one of the things we've always felt as necessary on the Web is: How do you allow consumers to participate? We think of e-commerce as an interactive experience. We want to put more interactive experiences up on Excite, and this is one of the first steps in doing that.

The Web has way too many things that are static. You go to a home page for somebody, but you really don't participate in that. How do you help businesses as well as individuals, consultants, and all kinds of people on the Web to interact with the various types of products, services, and communities that exist? I think that's the basis by which you'll see us do more things.

Chief operating officer Jeff Mallett claimed that Yahoo has "a 60-day jump" on the competition when it comes to featuring e-commerce services on its site. What do you think of that?
I'm not sure it's real. We've got the largest classifieds site on the Web now with Excite and Classifieds2000, which we purchased last quarter. Now by adding a strong auctioning capability to that, we're leveraging that capability. So it's not like we're starting from scratch or doing something new. We're enhancing and providing significant new functionality to an existing service that's out there. I think from that perspective, we've learned from the classifieds experience. We've talked to consumers about what they wanted, and it's now going live...

Now what they're doing with Viaweb is something significantly different. Viaweb is more about helping people build small businesses on the Web, which I think has a strong possibility and can be very successful. But it's a different thing than just having auctioning or e-commerce as a whole. I find the 60-day advantage not to ring that solidly to me.

It seems like it's one of the first times in the portal space--or free space--where you're allowing a forum for people to conduct transactions.
Absolutely. I think the Web is about "me." What it really allows you to do is get some sort of control over all the information that affects your life. And one of the things that auctions do is give you that element of control--I want to buy this Beanie Baby, I want to get this set of tires, I want to buy this car, whatever it may be. I think this is one step where we're allowing that interaction to take place. Because in the end, the Web is all about building a community of people who can effectively engage in different kind of events. One is commerce, the other is exchanging information about people.