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Up close and personal

From cannibals to hot deals to the $95,000 questions, the e-commerce world is a hub of activity. Here's a sampling of the ones to forget, the ones to ponder, and the ones to watch.

Personalization software, which targets content to specific individuals based on their interests, is coming into its own. But that's just one of the opinions you'll find here in this smorgasbord of commentary on recent events in the Internet community.

Getting personal: By taking advantage of features that target ads or content to individuals, the personalization technologies applied to the Internet may one day deliver on the sometimes-overblown promises of one-to-one marketing.

The thesis: users will respond better if they're shown what interests them on Web sites. Personalization can be done using browser "cookies," site registration, or other such features. The best personalization software learns from a user's clicks, then reacts by presenting ever more appropriate information.

E-commerce vendors are building these getting-to-know-you technologies into their software. Last month Netscape added personalization to its Publishing System e-commerce software and indicated the same capabilities will be added throughout its e-commerce suite.

Earlier in the month Microsoft, perhaps unnecessarily, bought personalization specialist Firefly Network.

Last week Microsoft announced that the next version of its Site Server, Commerce Edition 3.0, will have Microsoft-grown personalization too, but not Firefly's.

Microsoft General Manager Anthony Bay says Microsoft's interactive media division did the Firefly deal, primarily for Firefly's collaborative filtering and privacy technologies that infer user interests based on activities on separate Web sites. That's a handy feature when you're building a content and commerce empire, as Microsoft aims to, or to offer personalization as a service to other sites, as Microsoft might.

But personalization is far from the only issue shaking up the Net sales world. From cannibals to hot deals to the $95,000 questions, the e-commerce world is a hub of activity. Here's a sampling of the ones to forget, the ones to ponder, and the ones to watch:

Hot deal: PriceLine, the name-your-price service for consumers to pick up cut-rate airline tickets, has signed on as a major sponsor at GeoCities. Sounds like a good fit, and it should boost GeoCities' initiative to place GeoShops storefronts in its special-interest neighborhoods.

Not-so-hot deal: Although Canadian e-commerce software Inex looks like a winner with a bundling deal with Compaq, consider some history. The Inex bundling/investment sounds like Compaq's arrangement with firewall software vendor Raptor Systems. But Raptor became a security firm and was acquired last year by Axent Technologies. Also, the Inex bundle is targeted to smaller companies--the big guys will get Microsoft's e-commerce tools bundled on Compaq hardware.

Puzzler: Catalog software provider iCat is trying to jump-start getting small businesses onto the Net by going into the hosting business. Worthy aim, interesting approach, but how do iCat's ISP partners, with their own e-commerce hosting businesses, feel about the competition?