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Excite tests new communities

The portal site debuts a communities service designed to help small businesses, extended families, and others communicate.

Excite today launched a beta version of its end-user community builder resource as expected, marking another addition of services geared toward cultivating a more consistent and loyal audience base.

As previously reported by CNET News.com, Excite Communities will allow users to create their own topic-specific interactive communities that will reside on the portal site.

Within each community, members can build their own photo albums, message boards, and address books. Communities will also feature private chat rooms, calendars, and discussion areas.

Communities will be able to invite prospective users onto their sites or choose to be included in a community directory. In addition, the service allows communities to indicate with a warning signal whether their sites contain adult material.

"We've focused on community as interaction," said Excite executive vice president Brett Bullington in an interview about the general community space. Bullington said that Excite could gain an edge over its competitors by offering interactive communities instead of simple home pages. "Personalized home pages are more like a business card on the Web, which is static and not necessarily dynamic."

The launch of Excite Communities shifts into gear the Web portal's acquisition of Throw, which recently was completed to provide back-end technology development for the community builder.

Establishing communities has become the latest focus in the war for eyeballs in the portal landscape. Analysts have touted portal community efforts because home page builders and interactive communities give users more incentive to remain on the site. Laying stakes down on a portal yields reliable audiences who will consistently return to the site, analysts say.

Almost all portals competing in the space have launched or acquired services geared towards creating "stickiness" in its audience. Just this week, Lycos added home page builder Angelfire to its network of Web properties after it acquired parent company WhoWhere. The acquisition gives Lycos a stronger stake in home page builders now since it also owns Tripod.

Yahoo owns a stake in GeoCities, which filed for its initial public offering this week. Infoseek also intends to offer a similar product to Excite Communities using technology developed by 280, which it acquired in June, to work alongside its own home page builder powered by WBS.

Excite Communities will be fully launched and functional in the fall, the company said.