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Home pages become the next Net commodity

July 28, 1998
Web posted at: 12:20 PM EDT

by Dianne See

(IDG) -- Home-page hosting has become the latest, must-have Web site feature, popping up on destinations as small as teenage girl hangout gURL and as large as America Online. That's making the unique selling proposition of GeoCities, Tripod and other communities even more difficult to find.

AOL is planning a fall launch for Hometown AOL, which will offer home pages from its site, in addition to the hosting already available through its paid service. Excite has acquired Throw, a Seattle-based company working on home page production software tools. Earlier this month, WhoWhere, a company that began as an online directory, launched WhoWhere Pages, customizable home page technology it hopes to license to partners.

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Yet no one is making money from home pages not even the largest online community, GeoCities.

So why the rush to page the home-pageless? For Peter Friedman, president and CEO of Talk City, it's simple arithmetic. He estimates that only 6 to 7 million of the 40 million people who surf the Web have home pages.

Talk City, a site specializing in moderated chat, has amassed more than 550,000 home pages since it began offering them in March.

Community sites also draw a lot of eyeballs. Media Metrix ranks GeoCities, Tripod and Angelfire among the top 10 most popular Web sites in June.

For many sites, adding home pages is like adding another faddish feature, e-mail. It's easy and fast, and if people use it, they'll stay at the site longer. GURL's home page hosting has already increased its traffic by an estimated 3 million hits a month.

But if hosting becomes a commodity, and the technology enables anybody from Citibank to a supermarket to offer home pages, existing online communities will need to beef up their offerings. To bolster revenues, sites like GeoCities now offer shopping services and cobranded merchandise to members.

Bo Peabody, CEO and founder of Tripod, believes a shakeout is inevitable. "The search and navigation market has been able to support four brands: Lycos, Excite, Infoseek and Yahoo. The community space will probably be able to support the same: GeoCities, Tripod, AOL and another brand possibly Microsoft, Yahoo or Excite," he says.

The challenge for everyone will be to show the value-add of a place where everyone knows your URL, if not your real name.

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