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Web-based applications jockey for position

First it was free email, then free Web calendars. Now there seems to be a boomlet of Web-based events organizers.

First it was free email, then free Web calendars. Now there seems to be a boomlet of Web-based events organizers.

The field of start-ups launching portal services took on two more comers this week with the entries of Evite and TimeDance. Both aim to make it easier to schedule meetings and events, with Evite targeting consumers and TimeDance targeting business users.

Evite, funded by August Capital, offers users a place to schedule meetings and social events on the Web. The site's functionality resembles what many corporations use on their intranets, translated to a Web-based, advertising-supported consumer model.

TimeDance is another group scheduling service, which aims to eliminate "email tag and phone tag" in putting together meetings, the company said. TimeDance investors include Institutional Venture Partners and the Mayfield Fund.

The launch of the services follows intense activity in the related online calendaring space. Both Microsoft and America Online have purchased online calendars, which have come to be considered crucial components of portals. Yahoo built its calendar with technology acquired along with WebCal.

Evite, TimeDance, and their Portals: the new desktop? calendaring cousins are part of a larger trend toward moving desktop applications such as email management and scheduling from desktop software applications to Web sites. The proliferation of such utility Web sites, which began with Hotmail and other Web-based email sites, lets users access their information from any networked computer.

It also has opened up vast opportunities for a new generation of utility-based businesses such as Evite and TimeDance, while potentially threatening the traditional desktop software market and lessening the importance of the computer operating systems on which they are designed to run.

Analysts see potential for sites such as Evite and TimeDance because, like calendars, they provide advertisers with targeted placement opportunities.

"Calendaring is the first cousin to Evite," said Allen Weiner, an analyst with NetRatings. "The reason they're so hot right now is that an advertiser is more likely to sell a product or service if it's offered to the consumer in the context in which the user will use it. If you're scheduling a trip to the movies, the movie chain can send you ads for movies playing in your area."

In addition to earning targeted advertising and sponsorship revenue, schedulers may reap transaction revenue for ticket sales or purchased goods, as well as revenue for premium services such as customization.

Another arrow in the schedulers' quiver is the phenomenon of so-called viral marketing, in which each user evangelizes the service to several others simply by using it. The classic example of viral marketing on the Web is the growth of the free email services such as Hotmail, which grew to more than 40 million users in just a few years with little active marketing.

That's just the kind of business portal sites are eager to acquire, Weiner said.

Evite is preparing for a full launch next month. TimeDance launched in beta yesterday.