US Report: Netscape's Netcenter fails to impress

Netscape on Monday revealed the last major strategic pieces in its plan to turn its home portal site into a major gateway to the Internet.

While observers said none of the new components were a surprise, Netscape's strategy could be a solid source of cash, at least in the short term. "One of the interesting things that they could make a lot of money from is signing lucrative deals for the content channels," said Patrick Keane, an analyst at Jupiter Communications. "People are willing to pay for traffic, and Netscape has proven they can aggregate a lot of traffic."

A month after it announced "Project 60," Netscape looks to have made good on its plan to make Netcenter a top-tier Web gateway by the end of June. The site now offers many of the most popular services already on leading gateway sites Yahoo! and Excite. Those features include a personalised home page, "My Netscape," an array of content channels and a set of features (called "Smart Browsing") that make it easier to get around on the Web.

"Smart Browsing" ties Netscape's browser into Netcenter, which observers said should drive up the site's traffic. That, in turn, will make Netcenter real estate more valuable to content companies. News and information services have become one of the highest-traffic categories on the Web.

"Because of this integration with Communicator, we believe that Smart Browsing will become as popular and successful as other integrated services such as Net Search," said Mike Homer, general manager of Netscape's Netcenter division, in a statement.

The Internet Keywords feature, for example, will let users type in a common name or category, such as "Pez" or "flowers," into the browser's location bar, instead of a full Web address. For commonly used or trademarked names, Netscape will send users straight to the appropriate page - the Pez home page, for example. For categories, or names the browser doesn't recognise, users will be driven to the appropriate category - Computing, Travel, or others.

But Monday's announcement did little to change the minds of those observers who have been pessimistic of Netscape's gateway plans since the beginning. "Will this stuff get people who are not Netscape users to change portals? No," said Alexis DePlanque, an analyst at Meta Group. "Others offer it already." DePlanque added that the features integrated into the browser won't make much difference in the competition between Netscape and Microsoft which has recently converted its MSN offering into a portal site called start. Many corporate users, she explained, have their browser chosen for them by their employers, based on which server software the company uses.

In addition, observers noted that Netscape is merely following in the footsteps of Yahoo!, Excite, Infoseek and Lycos, which have built themselves into multi-featured Internet services, attracting the interest of users - and Wall Street - in the process.