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Idealab's latest: free Web-based intranets

The company that brought CitySearch, Free-PC, and eToys to the Web plans to offer businesses a hub for launching applications, hosting, and domain services.

The next venture for the company that brought CitySearch, Free-PC, and eToys to the Web is a free Web-based intranet service, offering businesses a hub for launching applications, hosting, and domain services.

Intranets.com, the latest venture to be launched by Web incubator Idealab, says it is the first Web site to offer free intranet services. Businesses use intranets to manage and distribute information, computer files, and documents, often over wide geographic areas. Intranets also provide a hub for launching applications such as group calendars and discussion software.

Idealab, a Pasadena, California-based creator of Internet start-ups, is expected to announce the venture Monday.

"Although independent studies demonstrate that intranet deployment returns an outstanding yield on investment, small to medium-sized businesses and organizations typically do not have the resources to develop these applications themselves," a page on the company's Web site reads.

The service will offer companies a custom domain name, such as "Mycompany.intranets.com," as well as password-protected access and 25MB of free disk space that can be expanded for a fee, the company says on its site. Companies also may host their Web site using the service. Free support is available via email. The site, which requires users to register first, will generate revenue from advertising, the firm said.

"There's going to be a tremendous amount of user registration data, allowing targeted ads as well as local ads," said Jae Kim, an analyst at Paul Kagan & Associates. "This probably could be one of the most effective Web-based local advertising models."

Led by its founder, Bill Gross, Idealab has gained a reputation for spawning savvy Web-based businesses. Not all its ventures, however, have panned out.

Shopping.com, an e-commerce site backed by Gross, has watched its stock hover around 10, well below its 52-week high of 24, after the Securities and Exchange Commission and a private arbitration panel criticized the company's accounting methods.

In addition, IdeaMarket, an online library of content, scaled back its offerings and watched most of its staff leave.

But more typical of Idealab are companies such as local business directory CitySearch and eToys, the top online seller of toys. Together, the two companies are valued in the billions. CitySearch last year scrapped plans to go public after it agreed to merge with USA Networks' Ticketmaster. The combined company, Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch, launched an initial public offering in October 1998, selling about $92 million worth of stock.

Intranets.com is not saying exactly when the complete service will be up and running. Initially, it will offer a limited number of services, such as member directories, group calendars, and document libraries. Additional applications, including online newsletters and discussion forums, are expected to be added later.