October 22, 1999 11:55 AM PDT

AltaVista launches beta site for revamped portal

AltaVista, the Web search and content directory owned by Internet investment firm CMGI, this week gave a brief glimpse of a major site overhaul, scheduled to go live Monday.

The test site, launched quietly at "beta.altavista.com," could not be accessed after CNET News.com called the company seeking comment. (For a screen shot of the AltaVista beta site, click here.)

An AltaVista representative declined to comment.

As previously reported, CMGI plans to unveil a complete revamp of AltaVista to transform it into a major Web portal. CMGI will spend more than $100 million for ads to blitz airwaves, print publications, and billboards in hopes of making AltaVista into a household name and challenging established leaders such as Yahoo and America Online's AOL.com.

CMGI has been on a buying spree recently and wants to use AltaVista as the main distribution vehicle for its far-flung Web properties, which number more than 40.

AltaVista's beta site revealed that the new service will contain six sections: search, email, free Internet access, local content powered by Zip2, Shopping.com online shopping, and home page personalization labeled "AltaVista Live."

Cosmetically, the beta site showed a new AltaVista logo with the slogan "smart is beautiful." AltaVista's logo currently shows a snow-capped mountain in the background with the slogan "The most powerful and useful guide to the Net."

CMGI plans to unveil the new AltaVista at a party on Monday in New York, as previously reported. On that afternoon, AltaVista will Webcast a benefit performance by popular R&B star Lauryn Hill, the company announced today.

The beta site shows that the new AltaVista is using Netscape Open Directory, a directory of Web sites compiled by volunteer editors. see related story: Free labor on the NetThe idea is to create a Web directory larger than Yahoo's by using volunteer editors instead of a paid staff. To generate more momentum for the service, Netscape has allowed other sites to use Open Directory, including rival portal Lycos and America Online's AOL Search engine.

News of AltaVista using Open Directory was first reported on Search Engine Watch, an online newsletter about the Web search industry.

Open Directory was created after Netscape acquired NewHoo a year ago. NewHoo was based on the same ideas that created Linux and Apache, two grassroots open-source software movements.

Since the acquisition, Open Directory has solicited numerous volunteers. As of early October, it lists 16,000 editors that have built a directory of more than 1 million Web sites, according to Netscape.

Two months ago, CMGI closed its deal to acquire AltaVista from Compaq Computer for $2.3 billion in stock. CMGI announced recently that it plans to take AltaVista public in January.

Since its AltaVista acquisition, CMGI has gone on a major shopping kick. In the last month alone, the company spent $500 million in stock for Web ad service AdForce, an undisclosed sum for free ISP 1stUp.com, and $690 million in stock for Flycast Communications, another Web ad agency.

In addition, on Monday the company acquired Activate.net, a privately held producer of Internet broadcasts.


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