'Start page' competition heating up * Home: The biggest names in online computing are spending millions to have you start your Web session on their home page.

June 01, 1998|By James Romenesko | James Romenesko,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Where did you start online today?

Several Internet companies are investing millions of dollars to persuade people to begin their daily online trek with them.

Yahoo, Excite, Netscape, Lycos and other familiar online names are adding to their features in hopes that users will dig into their browser preferences file and change the default home page setting to their address.

Make them your "start page," as they call this Internet entry point, and in return these Net firms will give you free stock quotes, customized news headlines, local television listings, weather, e-mail, chat and other features.

What's in it for them? More hits and, thus, more money from advertisers.

But trying to persuade people to change their settings and go through the effort of customizing a start page -- selecting stocks to follow, choosing news interests and revealing personal information -- isn't an easy task.

"Personalization is something that has always been great in theory, but very few people go through the trouble of doing it," says Internet analyst Peter Krasilovsky.

He says studies show that only 5 percent to 10 percent of users customize their favorite search engine's page.

"Another surprising thing about human nature is that 65 percent go to the default home page," he adds.

If they don't change settings, Netscape users automatically go to the browser company's page on launch, while Internet Explorer users find the Microsoft page on their computer screen.

Netscape was second to Yahoo last month as the Web's most visited site, according RelevantKnowledge Inc., a Web traffic-measuring company.

In an attempt to grab the first-place crown, Netscape is beefing up its Netcenter page by summer, adding a search engine and many of the features offered by Yahoo and other companies.

Excite, Lycos and Snap have also unveiled improved Web portals, giving users even more customization and information.

Here are some popular start pages and their offerings:

My Yahoo

The Web's best-known librarian has attracted millions of My Yahoo users by offering unique features and providing what's regarded as the best free customized personal finance information on the Web.

We have everything from chat to free e-mail to message boards and Net events," says Henry Rohn, senior producer. "We not only let you customize your front page, but we have 12 pages divided by categories that you can customize."

Killer feature: Yahoo touts its new 3-D Stock Viewer but the average Joe will probably go for Yahoo's online board games.

Address: www.yahoo.com.

My Excite

Although his company introduced a personalized page two weeks ago, Brett Bullington, Excite's executive vice president, says Excite pioneered custom pages two years ago.

Excite's goal is to build a "lightweight newspaper" for users.

"When you really want the details, we send you somewhere else," he says.

Killer feature: a detailed daily horoscope.

Address: www.excite.com.

Infoseek

Infoseek's advantage is the narrowest news filter of the group. In several categories (health to business), users select one or more keywords, and only articles with that word will be delivered to the custom page.

Infoseek, which recently purchased WebChat Broadcasting, also has online chat.

Killer feature: the quick link to "Dilbert."

Address: www.infoseek.com.

Lycos Personal Guide

The Lycos Personal Guide, launched late last month, has the familiar features -- headlines, stock quotes and local weather ` but it also has a daily planner, self-updating address book and home pages for users.

"Personalization is definitely one of those waves of the future, at least for this Web year," says Lycos' Scott Walker.

Killer feature: easy access to Lycos' "Top 5 Percent Site Reviews."

Address: personal.lycos.com.

America Online

The AOL site is one of the most popular on the Internet, although competitors say that's because most of AOL's 12 million members haven't figured out how to select another start page.

But AOL spokeswoman Wendy Goldberg bristles at suggestions that aol.com is only popular by default.

"Our members like aol.com," she says. "It exists in the AOL TC context. It's designed for AOL users, so they can find things they're familiar with when they go out to the Web."

From the AOL Web page, users can get their AOL mail and find other members online.

Killer feature: still looking.

Address: www.aol.com.

Snap

Snap, a start page from CNET, came to the game late and is trying to catch up with a different strategy: Simple is better.

"Our research shows that people are looking for fast answers," says General Manager Tom Melcher.

With that philosophy, the Snap brain trust has chosen not to incorporate chat functions, free e-mail service and other popular frills.

"We're going to focus on speed. . . and making sure our search results are highly relevant," says Melcher.

Killer feature: top news stories from CNN, Fox, MSNBC and U.S. News & World Report.

Address: www.snap.com.

Netscape

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