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Netscape takes browsing personally

In an effort to make browsing more personal, Netscape Communications has launched a new service that lets users build their own home pages.

In an effort to make Web browsing more personal, Netscape Communications has launched a new service that lets users build their own home pages.

Netscape's new service, Personal Workspace, lets Navigator users customize the layout of their home page, including the set-up of frames and background colors, as well as hyperlinks to their favorite Web sites. The company provides several categories, such as search engines, news, and references, from which users can choose specific sites.

Once a user creates a home page, Personal Workspace uses such tools as JavaScript and cookies technology to store information in a Web browser so that sites can automatically recognize the user when entered. John Smith, for example, would be greeted with the banner "Good Morning, John Smith," along with a list of his preferred Web sites, without having to enter a password.

According to Netscape officials, Personal Workspace is intended to serve primarily as a showcase for Netscape technology and how it can create a more personal experience for end users.

The release of Personal Workspace is part of a shift from a broadcast Web metaphor--where all users that access a site get the same material--to more customized, or narrowcast, communications that deliver information, such as news feeds or search services tailored to an individual's interests.

"Everybody talks about how the Web enables users to go from broadcasting to narrowcasting," said Eliot Bergson, editor in chief of Netscape's Web site. "[Personal Workspace] is the beginnings of the expression of a lot of technology Netscape has developed, including JavaScript and cookies. We'll be moving forward to provide other types of convenience for the user."

Microsoft already offers a similar service on its Microsoft Network Web site. Unlike Personal Workspace, which only offers links to Web pages, the MSN site allows users to select links to FTP, Usenet newsgroups, and other sites.

Netscape officials acknowledged that the new service is an effort to increase site traffic, and in turn advertising revenues, on its already phenomenally popular Web site. The site received 50 million hits in one day last week, according to Bergson.

Netscape denied suggestions from some Net experts that it is using the cookies technology showcased in Personal Workspace to compile detailed demographic information about users without their knowledge. Nevertheless, an increased use of cookies raises concerns about privacy issues among some observers.

"I think Netscape and Microsoft are so large that they can't afford to invade the privacy [of users]," said Stephan Somoygi, senior editor at Digital Media. "Smaller companies might do it, though. Over time, there will be increasingly less scrupulous people out there."

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