Rival Internet search sites, Lycos and Excite, are both relying on personalisation features to give their engines an edge in their increasingly competitive market.
Such features, which enable users to customise their content, can help to increase customer loyalty, the companies believe, and are likely to supplant current push technologies. In the wake of Microsoft buying Web personalisation specialist Firefly, analysts also believe the technology may allow search engines to muscle in on the revenues dominated by the browser makers.
Lycos has launched its Personal Guide, which allows users to personalise online content, and also includes personal information manager features such as a daily planner and contact manager. These details can be downloaded to a personal digital assistant (PDA).
The supplier is also using its recent acquisition of Tripod to provide users with their own free Web page, which can also be altered.
By concentrating on becoming more community oriented, Lycos is moving away from providing a search engine purely as an information resource. Mark Stoever, product manager for communities and personalisation at Lycos, said that the developments will combine all the elements of a personalised newspaper with lifestyle management tools. With many users not being able to differentiate between the search engines, Lycos hopes to create a brand loyalty by positioning itself as a personal guide.
Its arch rival Excite is taking a similar approach, extending its ?My Excite Channel? to allow the entire start page to be customised by the user. Excite already allows visitors to gather news headlines and stock quotes relevant to them, and to store personal information, but by incorporating the personal channel into the start page, Excite is making personalisation central to the site.
This means that many users will be introduced to personalisation for the first time in a quick and simple fashion.
Dela Quist, director of European sales at Excite, said: ?The idea behind the development is that Excite believes that the current way of counting page impressions to measure a Web site?s success is very misleading.? With Excite the user will receive real information immediately, he claimed.
Quist also stressed the difference between personalisation and push technology, where the Web supplier selects content for the user on the basis of a profile of interests, and pushes it out to the desktop. ?This is selected by the customer, not by us. I don?t believe push will ever take off,? he said.
Industry analysts see personalisation as a growing trend for Internet companies wanting to carve a niche for themselves in this competitive market. Christopher Charron, analyst at Forrester Research, said that personalisation is a key factor in retaining users. ?It is difficult for any site, especially portals, to not only attract users but to keep them,? he said.
Charron believes that there has been a ?default page vacuum? caused by browser makers Netscape and Microsoft struggling to convert their browser share into traffic. He sees the Excite development as a chance for the company to muscle in. ?The move is strategically good for Excite in the default page race with America Online and Yahoo as it needs to find a way to differentiate itself from the players,? he said.
Charron believes that search market leader Yahoo will hesitate to follow Excite?s move. ?They will use the Excite case as a market research exercise, if they see an impact on their traffic then they might change tactics,? he said.
The developments come shortly after news that Microsoft has agreed to acquire Firefly Network, a developer of Web site personalisation software.
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