When the heavyweights of telecoms and publishing industries come together to collaborate on a joint venture for mainstream online UK content services, you begin to realise how serious the Internet is becoming. LineOne is a mass market Internet service from Springboard Internet Services, a joint venture between News International and BT. It aims to provide local and national listings, 24-hour news and sports information for those of us that haven't got enough time to keep up with all the info by other means.
LineOne is marketed as an exclusive, self-contained area connected directly to your PC. Essentially, what they've done is provided a Web site that is protected, requiring you to input your username and password whenever you want to use the service. Included in your account is the ability to set up sub-accounts for up to five different people, which can be restricted to certain access levels such as just LineOne content rather than the whole Internet.
The service is targeted at people who probably haven't used any Internet services before, so setting up your PC to work with LineOne is an important aspect to their product. The software to access Line-One is distributed on CD-ROM, and versions for Windows 95 and Window 3.1 are available. The Windows 95 installation is straightforward and includes a well-designed presentation about what the service offers.
LineOne is accessed through Microsoft Internet Explorer software with some minor interface changes such as the icon in the top right-hand corner. It is branded using the LineOne logo rather than the Internet Explorer logo. Once you reach LineOne's home page, you're asked to choose between a Java or standard method of viewing the content - with that choice out of the way you reach the real interface for the site.
A DIVINE DESIGN
The overall design is of a professional standard and has been designed to work in an 800 x 600 pixel resolution window which is becoming the accepted minimum for authoring Web pages. The colour management on the site is well implemented, providing acceptable results on screens operating in 8-bit mode (256 colours).
The interface to the site is well thought out, with simple navigation methods that work consistently throughout the site. The graphics for the navigation are functional and low on download times, which allow for quick and easy access to all areas of the site.
The site's content is extremely comprehensive, with sections devoted to brand names such as Sky, The Sun, News of the World and The Times. Other sections include listings for TV and Radio, even including live RealAudio feeds of KissFM, ClassicFM and News direct.
Other interesting features include an online diary which allows you to schedule events that can then be emailed to you as a reminder before the event happens. The Springboard area includes an intelligent agent which automatically selects related topics that may interest you when looking at particular areas of the site. It seems to work quite well, but it's not really an intelligent agent when you compare it to the functionality on a site such as FireFly (www.firefly.com).
There are some more community-based areas of the site, including chat and forum sections. The chat system uses a Java-based chat client, which works extremely well, but currently some of functionality is not in place like the ability to page other LineOne members if they're online at the same time. The chat software has no system in place for filtering what people say such as dialogue that is unsuitable for children.
There are three pricing models for the service: unlimited, which gives you unlimited access to Line-One and the Internet for #14.95 a month; basic, which allows five hours free service a month, then #1.50 an hour which is charged out at #9.95 a month; and content-only which costs #6.95 a month and allows access without using LineOne as the access provider. The content-only option would be quite useful for anyone wanting to use the Internet at work, but want access to LineOne content. Unfortunately LineOne only offers this service to people outside the UK.
LineOne is an excellent Web site, but as a service to access the Internet it's going to have a difficult task. Only a year ago, BT was charging a similar price for Internet access alone, so I doubt if it's going to be long before free Internet access funded by advertising becomes available.
LineOne tries to provide everything for everybody and a lot of the content and services provided are already available on the Web with superior features and content. However, for someone wanting a reliable and simple way to get onto the Internet, LineOne is an ideal solution and should give AOL, MSN and CompuServe some food for thought.
Launch: 12 March 97
Target Audience: People wanting easy Internet access with value-added content
Competitors: AOL, MSN, CompuServe and Virgin
Setup: Sun Microsystems Enterprise 3000 and 4000 with Sun Storage Arrays
Hits Per Day: Unknown.
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