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Snap makes personal move

The portal introduces a new search interface and personalization, which it hopes will give it a boost in the overheated portal wars.

Snap today introduced two weapons--a new search interface and personalization--that it hopes will give it a boost in the overheated portal wars.

The site, a joint venture between NBC and CNET: The Computer Network (publisher of News.com), also announced that it is providing users with a "Guide to Web content Filters," where users can download filtering tools as well as get news about the software.

Snap is one of about a half-dozen leaders in the war to become a major portal site, or entry point to the Net. Analysts have said that only a few will survive the battle. Right now, the undisputed leaders in the portal effort are Yahoo and America Online, which also has the leading online service.

Today's move to add personalization--a service where users can choose to have specific items such as news and email--comes on the heels of Netscape Communications' Netcenter's announcement last week that it was adding its own form of personalization.

But both efforts lag behind other portals, such as Yahoo, which has offered personalization dubbed My Yahoo for a while.

Snap also announced today a new format in which users can click on tabs at the top of the main search page to choose the type of search he or she wants. The tabs are "Home," "Local," and "My Snap."

Portals constantly announce new features, links, and agreements to make their sites more attractive.

"We, like everyone, had elements all over the place," said Halsey Minor, chief executive of CNET. "This is more logically organizing it in the way users organize their different worlds. It's taking a lot of ideas that appear in different places."

For example, he said Yahoo is a good place to start for general Internet searching, Excite has many personalization features, and CitySearch specializes in local geographical information. Yahoo and other portals also have developed localized versions.

In early June, NBC paid $26 million for a 4.99 percent stake in CNET. It also bought a 19 percent stake in the Snap navigation service.

Minor said the amount of traffic to Snap has grown substantially because of the joint promotion between the two companies, but he declined to provide specific numbers.

Snap currently has more than 40 Internet service providers as distribution partners, many of which offer Snap as the default page to users logging onto the Internet.

But winning the portal war will probably not rest with the quantity or quality of bells and whistles. Rather, it will largely be a matter of marketing.

"Personalization isn't anything unique," said Patrick Keane, an analyst with Jupiter Communications. "They all offer personalization and they need to offer it, because consumers are asking for it."

But, he argued, the key to winning the battle will probably rest in how the site is marketed. And having NBC as a partner is likely to give Snap the boost it needs.

NBC, which is currently running ads for Snap during prime-time television viewing hours, will begin an even bigger advertising campaign in the middle of September.

"That kind of promotion and branding is something that Lycos doesn't have, and something Excite doesn't have unless they pay for it," Keane said. "NBC has a nice cadre of marketing assets."

Reuters contributed to this report.