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AltaVista adds content channels

The Net gateway quietly launches new content channels and takes on more partners in its effort to be a portal competitor.

AltaVista has quietly launched three new content channels in a further step to become a viable player in the hyper-competitive Internet gateway landscape, a spokesman confirmed today.

As reported last month when the company launched its financial site, AltaVista was expecting to add content offerings to extend its list of channels, or what the company calls "zones," to move itself further into the portal spotlight.

The new zones include a news site offering headlines from exclusive partner ABCNews.com. The headlines also are featured prominently on the site. A career development resource also has been added, along with a mapping service powered by Vicinity. Sources close to the company say that each zone will receive further enhancements before they are officially announced.

AltaVista declined to comment on the terms of the content partnerships.

The launch of the channels underscores AltaVista's aggressive push to evolve beyond its notoriety as just a search engine. The addition of the channels pushes AltaVista closer to mirroring the array of features that have made market leaders Yahoo, Excite, Lycos, and Infoseek so popular.

And AltaVista has had its hands full for the course of this year.

The flurry of Portalopoly content zone additions so far in 1998 have included a finance service that serves stock quotes, a health information resource powered by InteliHealth, a travel site with content from TheTrip.com, and an entertainment site featuring Wild Wild Web.

For the past few months, AltaVista has also been busy adding technology features such as free email. The addition of that feature in February signaled the search engine's first step toward becoming a full-fledged portal.

Last month, AltaVista launched its RealName service, which uses company names and trademarks to take users directly to a Web site that has information about the product or company they are seeking. Other technology offerings include a translation service and Web search capabilities in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

Despite all the activity at AltaVista, the service's audience is much smaller than that of its competitors. Plus, observers note that AltaVista's new technology and content offerings are late additions, at best. With all the competition out ahead of AltaVista, the service remains a second-tier portal in the eyes of many analysts.

But AltaVista's place as a lower-rung portal could make it an attractive property for media giants looking to get a piece of the pie.

"If you look at the deals done more recently , such as NBC and Snap and Disney and Infoseek, many said that Infoseek and Snap were clear-cut examples of too little too late, that they missed the mark and couldn't play catch up with Excite, Lycos, and Yahoo," said Regina Joseph, an analyst at Jupiter Communications. "However, it's the very fact that they think it's 'too little, too late' that they become potential acquisition properties. They're cheap and they're open to negotiations."

AltaVista became part of Compaq Computer's consumer division with the Houston, Texas-based computer manufacturer's acquisition of AltaVista parent Digital Equipment. Compaq could decide to spin the property off or perhaps leverage the site to make its own portal push.

"It helps [Compaq] to beef up the site to be an attractive acquisition for big media companies," Joseph noted. The benefit for Compaq is "the name brand and consumer mind share that [it] can receive when it can attach its name to large a media presence."