Netcenter adding email, search

The company is late in adding free email to its gateway site Netcenter, facing tough competition from the likes of Yahoo and Excite.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
3 min read
Netscape Communications today announced it will add key features to its Netcenter site, including free email from USA.net and its own Netscape-branded search engine.

As part of what it has dubbed Project 60, Netscape will add these and other services to NetCenter over the next 60 days.

"This is part of our aggressive strategy to build out Netcenter," said Netscape executive vice president and Netcenter general manager Mike Homer. "We're pleased to be partnering with USA.net to offer an extremely high quality [email] service."

Netcenter is relatively late in the game to be a principal gateway to the Net, or "portal," by adding free email to its services, following search sites like Yahoo and Excite.

Free email has become a standard feature of these sites, which also offer services such as instant messaging and chat to attract and retain users.

"This is one of the missing pieces of [Netscape's] retention strategy," said Forrester Research analyst Kate Delhagen. "Free email keeps people coming back to the site, sometimes several times a day. Now that Netcenter has instant messaging, free email is one of the few things they've left out."

Netcenter's email service, called WebMail, will offer a host of features, including address book synchronization; spell checking; draft saving; a message search function; an auto-responder; a virus scanner; foreign language translation; message forwarding to email, fax, and pagers; and mail consolidation from multiple email accounts.

WebMail is not to be confused with Netscape Mail, the name of the email client within Navigator browser software.

The company also will be creating its own search engine, which will be developed with a technology partner that has yet to be named, Homer said.

Since making its popular Navigator browser a free product, the company has turned to its Netcenter portal site as a key factor to drive revenue.

The Netcenter site attracts a great deal of traffic because it is the default home page for the Navigator browser, the most popular by most measurements. That traffic translates to revenue through advertising as well as the valuable real estate Netscape "rents" to search engines, including its portal site competitors Yahoo, Excite, and others. Those real estate licenses are set to expire at the end of this month.

Homer said he expected the search engine deals to be renewed even with Netcenter's plan to launch its own search engine.

Other Netcenter changes promise to make the site more closely resemble the other portals over the next two months. The site will be organized according to content channels, as are Excite, Yahoo, and others. The site also will offer a personalization option, as does Yahoo with MyYahoo and Excite with MyExcite.

The tardiness of Netscape's portal strategy will present a challenge for the company in a space where being early or first has reaped riches for chief rival Yahoo.

"I think [Netscape] recognized that they missed a huge opportunity a year or two ago," Delhagen said. "They had such huge traffic, and now they face an uphill battle in adding email. A lot of people are already attached to Yahoo or Hotmail."

But Homer defended his company's position in the market by saying that the company would leverage its position as the leading browser provider to generate significant traffic. According to Homer, the Netcenter site gets about 24.4 million visitors per month, with about 4.2 million signed members. Navigator has approximately 70 million users, about 50 percent of whom use Netscape as their default home page.

"You can consider all 70 million of our client users latent members of Netcenter," said Homer. "Because the services are not that differentiated, we believe that by just filling in the services and doing a good job, we're going to win."