The Firefly flame flickers, part II

But is it? Winblad's complaint -- echoed privately by other notable Web experts -- is that Firefly has gotten more attention than business.

But is it? Winblad's complaint -- echoed privately by other notable Web experts -- is that Firefly has gotten more attention than business. Indeed, most of the two dozen customers, aside from the Barnes and Noble and Yahoo!, are small companies like Virtual Emporium, which runs a Web shopping mall and in January plans to start using Firefly's software; and, a new sporting equipment Web store based in Seattle.

Susan Boster, marketing director for Barnes and, says her company is planning to expand its use of Firefly, and expects to offer a custom storefront for registered Firefly users.

But Firefly's relationship with Yahoo! is in flux.

Yahoo officials say traffic into the Firefly-based "My Agent" feature, which recommends Web sites, was light and the feature is being taken down.

Yahoo's contract with Firefly ended in November and talks are under way for a new relationship, though nothing has been decided yet.

Meanwhile, privately held Net Perceptions, which Winblad's firm backs along with billionaire Paul Allen's Vulcan Ventures, has started winning what looks to be higher profile deals than Firefly has, including agreements to provide recommendation software to some of the biggest names on the Net --, CDNow, and iVillage's Parent Soup.

All of this comes as Firefly is undergoing a major shift in its business focus. Originally, the company's primary source of revenue was selling advertising on its Web sites and software. Now, it's getting out of the advertising business and is just selling software.

To that end, in October, Firefly sold its BigNote music recommendation site to a privately held start-up called Launch that has renamed the site myLaunch.

Industry sources say Firefly is also hunting for a buyer for its site. CEO Grouf declines to comment, except to say that Firefly will have an announcement about the film site shortly.

So does this look like the beginnings of a Firefly flame-out? Possibly, but Firefly backers insist that better days are around the corner.

Softbank Technology Ventures Managing Director Charles Lax says that Firefly has solid financial backing and in fact, is hiring staff, despite competitors whispers to the contrary.

Furthermore, Lax and Grouf say Firefly has an ace in the hole with its pioneering of the Open Profiling Standard, which is at the heart of its profile management software.

Both Microsoft and Netscape have included support for OPS personal profiles in the latest browser versions, and use of the standard by e-tailors is expected to snowball in 1998. That could give Firefly an edge in a market which has yet to develop.

Lax says that Firefly "is THE player in this space."

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