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CompuServe makes portal play

The online service rolls out the first phase of a site redesign, suggesting it will begin cultivating a mainstream Web audience.

CompuServe rolled out the first phase of a Web site redesign, suggesting the online service will begin trying to cultivate a mainstream Web audience.

The new site is a far cry from its former incarnation as a mere marketing vehicle for CompuServe's subscription-based online service. It now includes features typical of portals, such as news headlines, stock quotes, the Netfind search engine powered by Excite, free email, and content links.

"This is a preview of something that will be enhanced in the next couple of months," said CompuServe spokeswoman Anne Bentley. "It's an enhancement for our members, and it offers them--when they are away from our software--the ability to get back to our features."

The move mirrors the efforts of CompuServe's parent-company, America Online, to pursue a "multibranded" portal strategy, which calls for simultaneously marketing a number of portal brands that individually serve specific audience bases.

For example, AOL has launched a new version of its ICQ messaging client that offers more portal-like features--such as a search engine and content channels--to its internationally based audience. In addition, it relaunched its AOL.com home page to include more portal features that would appeal more to people using the service to access the Internet.

CompuServe, for its part, is aiming its redesign at "a more serious business consumer," according to Bentley. However, that demographic closely resembles the demographic targeted by Netscape Communications' Netcenter portal, which AOL will assume once its $4.2 billion merger with Netscape is complete.

Bentley could not elaborate on whether the two portals could potentially compete against each other going forward, or on how extensively CompuServe would appeal to mainstream Netizens once the overhaul of its site is complete.

"At this point, we're not specifically marketing this site," said Bentley. "We may. I think that will come down the road when we are fully launched."