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AltaVista details e-commerce hosting service

AltaVista continues a series of attention-grabbing initiatives with an announcement of a new e-commerce hosting service for small and midsized businesses.

AltaVista continued a series of attention-grabbing initiatives with an announcement today of a new e-commerce hosting service for small and midsized businesses.

As previously reported, AltaVista introduced its Homebase StoreFronts service, a new e-commerce solution created for merchants who want to capitalize on the traffic that flows through the AltaVista network.

Homebase StoreFronts is expected to be used by more than 200 local media sites around the world by year's end, according to company executives.

Developed by AltaVista's Zip2 unit, Homebase StoreFronts aims to expand "local portals" created by newspaper and media sites. The first Zip2 partner to use its e-commerce capabilities will be the Houston Chronicle's Houston4U.com; the New York Today site of the New York Times also runs on Zip2 technology.

In a separate announcement, Zip2 said the Washington Post, previously allied with Zip2 rival Tickmaster CitySearch, has signed with Zip2.

The move puts renewed pressure on Ticketmaster CitySearch, which has similar local store-hosting capabilities in major markets around the country. It also could affect Microsoft's Sidewalk network of local city sites, America Online's Digital Cities, and Yahoo's regional sites.

"It is directly competitive with what Ticketmaster-CitySearch is doing and with what any other local Internet site would be offering local merchants," Bruce Murray, Zip2's vice president of marketing, told CNET News.com in an interview from Chicago, where the new program is to be unveiled.

The announcement follows a series of high-profile moves by AltaVista in the last week. Earlier yesterday, CNET News.com reported that AltaVista intends to roll out a free dial-up ISP service in conjunction with start-up 1stUp.com.

Separately, AltaVista yesterday unveiled a new stock and finance channel, along with personalized pages to compete more directly with the popular My Yahoo and My Excite. AltaVista will spend $10 million to market these features in the next ten weeks.

Both steps shortly followed CMGI's June 29 bid to buy AltaVista for $2.3 billion from Compaq Computer. The deal has not yet closed.

Like the finance channel and customization, the effort to host e-commerce is essentially a bid to make up lost ground, at least with Yahoo, which bought a storefront hosting operation called Viaweb in June 1998. Yahoo has not emphasized its localized hosting operations, however.

"We have staked out the local space with local media company partnerships," said AltaVista's Murray, noting that Zip2's local portal client list includes newspaper chains Hearst, McClatchy, and Freedom Newspapers. In Canada, phone carrier Telus has launched MyBC.com in Vancouver, B.C., and plans to roll out sites in other Canadian cities. Paris' well-known Le Figaro is another licensee.

Zip2's services include sports, news, personal finance, community aspects, Web directories, Web searching, and free email. The store-hosting service is slated to roll out by September.

The new service will use store building and hosting software from Intershop Communications and e-commerce services from CyberSource.