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Infoseek searches for direction

The portal unveils a new look, despite indications that it may disappear once Go Network--the portal being coproduced with Disney--launches.

It appears Infoseek is not ready to become a lame-duck site.

The portal today unveiled a redesign of its site, despite indications that it may disappear once the Go Network--the portal being jointly produced with Disney--launches next year.

Executives have said that Infoseek will remain a search and directory brand within the Go Network. However, they also have maintained an air of indecisiveness about the future of the portal once the Go property gears up.

"We have to decide over time whether the Infoseek portal adds value to the multibranded portal strategy approach," said Barak Berkowitz, Infoseek senior vice president and portal site general manager.

Nonetheless, even though today's redesign had been planned before its deal with Disney, the new channels are an indication of the direction Infoseek will take with regard to content channels for Go, Berkowitz said. "We're not going to throw anything away," he added.

Besides slight alterations in its color scheme and interface, today's redesign focused mainly on streamlining the search engine by introducing more human-edited results. Edited query results also will further link to other resources, such as site reviews, and more detailed searches. The service will provide links to the search box, which Infoseek says will speed up new searches.

Many of the features on Infoseek's newly revamped page have been adopted previously by competitors such as Yahoo and Excite. The redesigned Infoseek now has a sidebar that aggregates latest news headlines, software downloads, and an "Infoseek Today" section, as well as a navigation bar along the top of the page.

Since Infoseek inked its deal with Disney in June and announced Go this week, the reality of the deal is starting to take shape behind a cloud of obscurity.

On one hand, the deal may be the push that both companies are looking for to become top contenders in the portal battle, which is being led by the likes of Yahoo and America Online.

However, questions and speculation are rife surrounding the proposed management structure, which will be clarified once Infoseek gets Securities Exchange Commission approval for its proxy. The proxy will detail the Go Network's management structure under Buena Vista Interactive Group, Disney's online unit run by Jake Winebaum, and spell out where current Infoseek and Starwave executives will fall.

Some analysts say the companies still are early in their process toward creating a competitive portal. But the process needs to happen quickly.

"First you get leadership, then you get organization and mobilization, then you get new features and products," said Chris Charron, an analyst at Forrester Research. "They have to move quickly--but at this point, I think that they're still at the very early stages."

But analysts also have said that Infoseek may have had a difficult time without the Disney deal.

"Infoseek, as the fourth [ranked portal], was the least likely to thrive without the Disney deal," said Andrea Williams, an analyst with Volpe Brown Whelan & Company. "But it's so early in the game that we don't know how all these companies will survive, and maybe they all could if they set out to differentiate themselves."

She added that Infoseek's future is more secure with the Disney deal.

"Whether Disney takes a controlling stake or acquires the company, or does neither, Infoseek will always have a role in the Go site," Williams said. "And Infoseek doesn't have to worry about getting crushed by a big media company because of its relationship with Disney."