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Firm takes aim at Deja News

Silicon Valley start-up Talkway launches a service it hopes will serve as the primary gateway to Usenet newsgroups.

Silicon Valley start-up Talkway has launched a service it hopes will serve as the primary gateway to Usenet newsgroups and perhaps provide an easier alternative to newsgroup cataloguer Deja News.

Based on Yahoo's model of creating a content directory, Talkway organizes Usenet newsgroups into channels of interest such as Business, Classifieds, News, Science, and Sports, in contrast to the sometime confusing language associated with newsgroup names. Company executives say categorizing newsgroups into a directory format will make searching and contributing to newsgroups easier.

"We think of Deja News as an AltaVista, and we contrast that with Yahoo's human intervention to categorize those Web sites," said Fabrice Hamaide, Talkway's vice president of finance and operations.

Nonetheless, Talkway's business model is based on advertising banners and e-commerce partnerships. For example, it has struck deals with Cyberian Outpost and Barnes and Noble, to provide targeted links to the commerce sites based on the newsgroup content. Talkway will get a percentage of sales from click-throughs from its site; further financial details were not disclosed.

Talkway also will feature a premium service that follows user visiting habits and suggests additional content and services in which the user may be interested. The profiles also will provide opportunities for the company to offer psychographic profiles of its users to advertisers.

"Although we collect info about individuals, we won't make it available to third parties," said Talkway president Tom Chun.

Deja News, which has been around since the Web's infancy, catalogues all Usenet newsgroup discussions. The service has grown from relative obscurity to a Net staple and recently began offering free email. Although other sites, such as Digital Equipment's AltaVista search engine, will allow users to conduct newsgroup searches, Deja News the leader in that space.

Talkway could have its work cut out for it: Deja News currently boasts 4.5 million users and 115 million unique page views per month. In addition, the site lists 50,000 newsgroup forums, as opposed to the 30,000 forums that Deja News claims Talkway has. With Deja News' recent addition of free email, executives at Deja News see Talkway as a minor competitor in a limited arena.

"They don't have as broad a selection of forums," said David Wilson, Deja News vice president of marketing. "They don't have archives, they don't have search, and they're aiming at a space that's just a piece of our business."