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Solid Oak plans profile service

In an attempt to tap into the Net's community appeal, the firm is planning to release a feature to mimic AOL's "MyProfile."

In an attempt to tap into the Net's community appeal, Solid Oak Software is planning to release a free personal profile service that will mimic America Online's "MyProfile."

Just like AOL's service, aims to establish an online community where Netizens can read about each other's interests and hobbies, or simply get to know one another.

Members who sign up are given an identification code that serves as an access key to their profiles. That way members can choose who receives their identifications.

While WhoAmI initially will be a tool to promote Solid Oak's products, the site intends to generate revenue via banner advertisements, a company spokesman said.

"The purpose is to give people on the Internet an identity," said Brian Milburn, president of Solid Oak. "A lot of people don't have the time or the inclination to make a Web page."

With the release of WhoAmI, Solid Oak joins the ranks of other sites that aim to be gateways to the Web, or "portals," such as Excite and Lycos, which are launching a host of free personalization services to vie for online market share and advertising revenue. These companies hope to boost advertising by attracting Netizens with aggregated content, while retaining them with personalization services.

Some analysts agree that WhoAmI might appeal to advertisers striving to gain a clearer perspective on user demographics and preferences. Since advertisers can tailor their campaigns according to the end user's preferences, a service like WhoAmI theoretically could charge more for banner space.

But Paul Hagen, an analyst at Forrester Research, remains skeptical. He believes that Solid Oak's attempt to create a community environment is lacking in one critical area: content.

"I don't think the 'If you build it, they will come' model works," Hagen said. "Building a community takes time and effort. To build a vibrant community, there has to be some kind of draw to people who are building the content--their shared interests or opinions--or it's outside content."

Hagen pointed out that successful online community sites first were structured around content, rather than services. Eventually, WhoAmI may have difficulty competing with Web sites created around content, such as GeoCities and Tripod.

Senior analyst Patrick Keane of Jupiter Communications added, "They will need to build a critical mass very quickly to be valuable for advertisers and users. They'll have to be marketed very aggressively.

"Many companies are trying to mimic AOL because it's a very successful model," Keane added. "I'm just wary that they can get to the critical mass quickly without having an established brand."