Excite and Lycos Get More Personal

Excite and Lycos Get More Personal

From The Search Engine Report
April 30, 1998

Excite dramatically changed its home page on April 13 by integrating personalization into it, while Lycos launched a revamped version of its personalized service on the same day.

The Excite move is significant, because it actively places users into a personalized environment that they may have otherwise overlooked or even avoided before.

No longer do users need to consciously choose to establish an account and then visit a separate page listing information such as stock quotes, news headlines, weather forecasts and television listings. Instead, this has all been attached to the home page.

Excite acknowledges that the change might be disconcerting to some but says it has made it so that the emphasis on search and navigation remain.

"One of the risks is that we potentially throw a lot of people off," said Excite executive vice president Joe Kraus. "But if you don't ever want to personalize, you don't have to."

Weighing against the risk are statistics that say those who personalize return to Excite five times more often than those that don't. That extra traffic means revenue.

I'd say the move is successful. I've never been a big fan of personalization or start pages. That's not to say they aren't useful, but I don't like my browser loading a site by default, nor can I ever be bothered to go to a special personal page.

In short, I'm an ideal example of the type of person Excite hopes to capture with its changes. They put personalization in my face, but not in my way. I was able to function just as before, but the changes allowed Excite to show me exactly why a personalized page can be useful.

Almost immediately, I was drawn in. Enter my birthday and get my horoscope? Why not? It took only a few seconds, and suddenly I was down the path of personalizing my page.

Excite calls this "creeping" personalization. "With Excite, you don't have to fill out a bunch of forms but instead enter a piece of information one at a time," Kraus said.

It's not necessarily unique to Excite. The same horoscope trick can be done over at Lycos. But you would have had to consciously decide to visit the Lycos Personal Guide area to get started. That's just a click away from the home page, but it's the hardest click for many users to make.

Meanwhile at Yahoo, you can't personalize at all without first filling out a form. The form isn't much longer than the one Excite eventually asks you to fill out, but it puts one more barrier in the way of discovering what personalization can offer.

Removing those barriers is especially crucial for services such as Excite, which want to become web starting points. They're competing against the Microsoft or Netscape default pages, which have natural advantages.

For example, Microsoft Internet Explorer automatically takes users to its Start Page by default, where it can entice them with many of the same personalization features that the search portals offer.

Excite's move is a brilliant stroke against this, competitively. They know the odds are someone will eventually come to their service. That's their chance to say, "We do personalization, too." But rather than just say it, they show it, and they're likely to hook more people.

I won't cover everything that Excite and Lycos offer on the personalization front. You can find virtually the same type of information in both places, as well as at My Yahoo. Instead, I'll note a few distinctions.

I found Excite seemed to have a strong advantage in allowing you to choose what and where to present information. Yahoo lets you move options around, too, but Excite's method was easier and more intuitive.

One of the big pluses to personalizing with Excite is that you can establish NewsTracker search topics and have them linked on the home page, instead of being forced to go to a bookmarked location and retrieve them. NewsTracker is a very good news search service, far beyond Yahoo's. This makes it even more convenient to use.

Unfortunately, my existing topics, which I've refined with keywords over the past year, didn't automatically transfer over when I activated my account. Excite says this should have happened and promises a workaround. I'll pass that on for others who may encounter the same situation, when I hear back.

Over at Lycos, a big change is that they have integrated home page management tools into the personal page, for those who have Tripod accounts.

So after I signed up for the Lycos personalized page, I visited Tripod and logged in. It was smart enough to recognize I now had a Lycos account and prompted me to merge the two. When I returned to the Lycos personal page, home page management options became available.

Lycos has also introduced an online contact management and calendar system from PlanetAll that looks very intriguing. I didn't play with it, but it offers many obvious advantages to those wanting constant access to names, addresses and scheduling via the web.

Despite these changes, Yahoo still deserves kudos for integrating its free email into the personalization sign-up. You fill out one form, and you get both a free email account and a personalized page at the same time. These remain separate operations at Excite and Lycos, though you can probably expect them to be combined eventually.

I'm still waiting for one of the services to take personalization another step and offer themed searching. Imagine that you could decide to have a Star Trek look-and-feel to the service, or perhaps the characters from South Park are licensed to guide you through the web. It would add absolutely nothing to improving searching, but it sure would be fun.


Lycos Personal Guide

My Yahoo

Excite, Taking Personalization to Main Page,
Hopes To Redefine Web Hubs

Internet World, April 13, 1998

Details of the Excite changes, contrasting against Yahoo.

Personalized Web takes step forward
San Jose Mercury News, April 8, 1998

Nice summary of the need to balance gathering personal data with the fear of ostracizing visitors.