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Excite to offer free email

Excite announces it is getting into the free email business, taking on established players such as Juno, HotMail, and NetAddress.

Excite (XCIT) today announced that it is getting into the free email business, taking on established players such as Juno, HotMail, and NetAddress.

As previously reported, the move into free Web-based email will be the first a search engine has made in the fast-growing market, but it shows how these firms are branching out to expand their Net presence and advertising revenues. Free email makes money from advertising and search engines are eager to reach sustained profitability.

Like most other free email, the service called MailExcite is expected to have these features: accessibility through any computer hooked up to the Net either at home or work and incorporation of animation into messages. In addition, the company touts the privacy of the Web-based service and the fact that it provides a "lifetime" email address, whether a user changes jobs or ISPs.

MailExcite account holders will also have an address book, the ability to send attachments, and a function called vacation replies, where the service will automatically respond to people with a personalized message while a subscriber is away.

Users typically sign up by entering a name and a password. To access email, they simply reenter their name and password.

Despite its benefits, free email has a downside. Spammers often use free email accounts to send spam because it is so easy to sign up. In one case, Netcom was forced to block incoming email from Hotmail during one weekend last month because spam bearing a Hotmail address threatened to clog Netcom's network. The email turned out to be forged, and Netcom has since resumed accepting Hotmail traffic.

In addition, some providers have been falling by the wayside. Last December, Freemark Communications suspended operations after amassing some big advertisers but too few subscribers.

The deal rounds up a number of new offerings by Excite, including Internet messaging and a lineup of content "channels" on its Web page. Many analysts are bullish on the company as a result of its recent aggressive actions.

Like Yahoo, Infoseek, and other search engine companies, Excite is trying to leverage its brand by launching new Web-based services. Companies in this sector typically have been dogged by financial losses, although Yahoo has been profitable for three straight quarters and its stock is trading around a 52-week high. Excite recently canceled a secondary stock offering but received a $40 million cash infusion from Intuit.

MailExcite is a technology licensed from WhoWhere.