Way to Web paradise is Excite.com


It's not just Sophia Loren and the yields on 10-year Treasury notes that seem to get better and better as time passes, friends and neighbors.

Have you taken a gander at www.excite.com lately?

Excite.com belongs to that strange category of Web sites known as Internet portals, and if you lack one of your own or if you have one somewhere else, I'm the lucky guy who's going to point the way to a great new Internet mornin' a-comin'.

If there's a Shangri-La in cyberspace, it may well be Excite.com. A bunch of bells and whistles have been added to its offerings -- things like free Internet service via dial-up, streaming radio programs and synchronization of Excite.com's Web address book and calendar planner with your own Palm or Windows Outlook data.

Internet portals are the Swiss Army knives of Web services that make (or, in the case of Excite.com, lose) money in the quest to persuade consumers to install them as the starting page that comes up each time the Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer browsers get clicked to life.

Portals court Web users to stop by and sit a spell by custom-bundling on a single page stuff like the latest news headlines, stock prices, sports scores, weather conditions, horoscopes and lottery numbers.

It's a crowded, competitive battleground with combatants including Yahoo.com, Go.com, Snap.com, Lycos.com. Altavista.com, MSN.com, Netscape.com, Earthlink.net, Zdnet.com and many others.

You've heard of Yahoo!; it's one of the largest of the red-hot Internet stocks with a market capitalization of roughly $84 billion and is widely expected to be a player in the next e-commerce merger. Maybe the Walt Disney Co. will buy it; maybe it will buy the huge eBay Internet auction site.

Excite.com is owned by ExciteAtHome Inc., and 26 percent of its stock is owned by AT&T; Corp., which uses the company to provide the home pages for subscribers to AT&T;'s cable Internet service. Much smaller than Yahoo!, Excite.com has a market value in the $11 billion neighborhood.

My employer, Tribune Co., owns 1 percent of ExciteAtHome's stock, worth $3.4 million, so you'll have to view my praises of Excite.com with the a grain of salt.

(Tribune has announced a merger with the Times Mirror Corp., which owns The Sun.)

All I can tell you is that these conflict-of-interest pimples are a fact of life in a world turned upside down by mergers and acquisitions. I work for the same outfit that brings you "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and Emeril Lagasse; Peter Jennings is Mickey Mouse's co-worker and Tom Brokaw works for General Electric.

When the CBS-Vicaom merger in the works is done, Dan Rather will be a co-worker of R2-D2's.

Pimples and all, I assure you that Excite.com is the best portal for home computer users.

Let me tell you about how I set up my own Excite.com page, starting with the fact that I used the service's customization feature to make the screen display light violet with royal purple and washed yellow highlights. (I am not, you may have noticed, much of an interior decorator.)

I divided the display into three columns, with the top of the first column listing updates of the trading prices of the dozen or so stocks I follow.

Clicking on the ticker symbol of any stock takes me to the superb Quicken service, which lets me display a bewildering variety of charts, offers all press releases and news stories about the company, and delivers its complete filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Next to the stock list in the second column are hot links I have set up to the Web places I use most, including www.chicagotribune.com, www.nytimes.com and www.wsj.com.

The third column starts with a listing of the daily weather reports. Below the weather is an online phone book called People Finder that gets phone numbers quicker than dialing 411 -- for free.

The center column below my hot links is a long listing of breaking news stories from the Reuters wire service and a variety of other sources that keeps me updated all day long.

My start page also includes my daily horoscope (Gemini), results of the Illinois Lottery, and the daily almanac, which covers what happened in history each day and features a very long list of which movie stars, politicians and entertainers are having which birthday.

Below that is a map feature that lets me type in any address in the United States and calls up a street map and directions of how to get there from my house.

At the bottom is the feature I may use the most, a complete listing of everything playing on the dozens of cable TV channels. You can click on the icon for each program to get added information, such as actors and plot summary.

That's my page. What are you waiting for? Your own page is waiting to be built at www.excite.com. Tell them Buffy sent you.

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