May 15, 1998 1:35 PM PDT

GeoCities entering portal race?

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The Internet "portal" landscape may have a new player: Web community GeoCities quietly launched a redesign of its home page.

The site has been transformed to mirror the look and feel of popular Portalopoly search and directory sites such as Yahoo, Excite, Lycos, and Infoseek. Whereas the home page once served as a directory of GeoCities member home pages, it now has been beefed up to contain interest channels that include links to major Internet content and commerce sites such as Amazon.com and ESPN SportsZone. Member or "homesteader" pages are still included but are placed below the major sites' links.

"During the next few days, you'll see a new look and feel--or a user interface as it's called in Internet lingo--for GeoCities," the firm told homesteaders in a letter sent Wednesday. The firm said it planned to improve the navigation of its site by broadening the interest indexes.

"Within the next 45 days, our plan is to flesh out the topics pages as well," the letter added. "These individual topics will become part of a robust hierarchy that will drive more members and visitors to see your great pages."

GeoCities' decision to revamp its appearance and functionality may signify the entrance of yet another player into the congested portal landscape. While major media conglomerates such as Disney promise portal entries and the Net anticipates the hyped launch of Microsoft's "Start" page, the emergence of GeoCities into the realm could shed new light on how to leverage Web community content into an Internet gateway offering.

GeoCities executives denied that the site's redesign signified a launch into the gateway space.

"GeoCities is interested in continuing to retaining its position as a market leader in the community space on the Web," said Steve Hansen, chief financial and administrative officer of GeoCities. "We're a community site. We're not a portal site."

"We are leveraging the content by our members to generate more market share and more traffic," said GeoCities founder and chairman David Bohnett.

"What this new [user interface] demonstrates is the new integration of third-party content as an enhancement to content developed by homesteaders," Bohnett added. "Our editorial strategy continues to focus on homesteader content and to now include third-party content."

However, a source familiar with GeoCities' strategy said the site's redesign is meant to push the firm into the portal race.

Portal sites have enjoyed tremendous hype on Wall Street lately, with their stock prices skyrocketing. The gateway sites also can command larger sums from advertisers. If GeoCities reinvents itself as a Net gateway, it could boost revenues for the firm. GeoCities has tried other tactics to increase revenue, including the addition of e-commerce and pop-up ads on members' pages.

Though the new GeoCities may look and feel like a portal, the site still lacks a key element: a comprehensive Internet search engine. A GeoCities executive declined to comment on whether the company plans to develop a search engine or license search technology from a company such as Inktomi. Currently, the site features an engine that searches its own community of Web sites.

However, Bohnett said he would not rule out a future addition of Web search technology. Still, the firm's focus for now is on searching within member sites, he said.

GeoCities executives also would not comment on whether the company would pursue distribution deals or content partnerships in the future. But executives would not rule out pursuing commerce deals that mirror those of other portal sites.

"We're interested in being in business with the same people the portal sties want to be in business with," said Hansen.

GeoCities plans to formally announce its new look next week.

 

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