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Infoseek searches out new strategy

Hoping to streamline the Net searching process, InfoSeek plans to launch a revamped version of its Net search engine on Friday.

Hoping to streamline the Net searching process, Infoseek (SEEK) plans to launch a revamped version of its Net search engine Friday.

As the competition between Net search engines reaches a fever pitch, Infoseek has focused its efforts on building stronger search technology as well as a widely recognized brand through an expensive advertising campaign. But according to analysts, the company has lagged behind the popularity of Yahoo and Excite, even though it has succeeded in creating one of the most powerful search engines around.

"Infoseek is in a war for traffic with Yahoo and Excite, and they're losing that war," said John Robb, an analyst with Forrester Research.

Yahoo and Excite have worked agressively to build themselves into veritable household brand names through their own multimillion-dollar print and broadcast campaigns. According to Robb, the two companies have also focused more than Infoseek on building specialty databases of Web information geared for specific demographic groups.

Still, Infoseek is betting that its core search technology will distinguish its service, and has focused its efforts on features that make it simpler for users to entering queries.

One feature, Smartseek, allows users to enter queries as though they were asking questions in plain English, such as "How long is the baseball season?" The feature also presents users with a library of information related, but not central, to a particular query.

The company said that it will unveil an entirely new look and feel for Infoseek, and that it will integrate a previously separate feature called Ultraseek directly into the company's core service. Infoseek claims that Ultraseek is the only search engine that provides a "real-time" index of the entire Web. The service will also allow users to search specific Web sites, hunt for images, and determine how many Web pages link to a particular site.

"Users are concerned with the quality of the information they are getting over the Web," said Daniella Russo, vice president of product management at Infoseek.

Analysts said the new natural language querying capabilities might bolster Infoseek's appeal with consumers who are confused by the vastness of the Net.

"Consumers aren't thinking in terms of keywords," said Ira Machefsky, a senior industry analyst at Giga Information Group. "If you're not accustomed to thinking that way, it's not useful to tell [someone] to do that."

"Infoseek has always had more flexible linguistic search capabilities," Machefsky said. "If [natural language queries] really work, it can be useful to everybody."