It was bound to happen.
With the major portal companies becoming more competitive in the reach and registered-user game, Lycos is considering raiding community sites, in particular Yahoo's GeoCities, for the most popular homesteaders, offering more memory for their homepages and even cash.
Lycos VP of Marketing Jan Horsfall says the idea is to get users of GeoCities to switch to Lycos' community sites Tripod and Angelfire. While the idea is only in the developmental stage, it signals that Lycos has a clear view of exactly what a homesteader is worth and is serious about growing its user base by any means necessary. In effect, the war is on.
Lycos' idea, however, isn't novel. The practice of paying customers of one service for switching to another was made popular by the phone companies, which aggressively tried to get phone users to switch long distance carriers with cash inducements.
But competitive response from the portals may be different. When some phone companies resorted to bribery, most of the others joined the fray in what became a sort of bidding war. It's doubtful, at least initially, that Yahoo would respond in kind. When asked whether Yahoo would consider paying to keep GeoCities members in the fold, a spokeswoman said, "We don't think short-term money will solve long-term problems. Loyalty is something you can't pay for."
It's hardly a surprise that Lycos is the first to apply hardball tactics to the online arena. Lycos has differentiated itself from the other major portals by its relentless competitiveness. Witness what happens when you try to search for Yahoo on Lycos' search engine. If you enter the word "Yahoo" on Lycos, a screen comes up that says: "We know you've been looking for Yahoo but if you really want to search the Web for the coolest, newest, best quality Web sites we hope you'll try us, Lycos: Your Personal Internet Guide." On Yahoo not only will Lycos turn up in the search results, but at the bottom of the page there's even a link to Lycos along with other engines.
Of course, luring away users is different than simply not providing links. While many took the cash from phone companies, Lycos might find it difficult to get people to actually switch hosts for their Web pages. For one thing, GeoCities has a more established brand than Tripod or Angelfire. Then, too, it appears that some homesteaders have come to regard their host sites as, well, homes. Cindy Moschner, of Boonville, Indiana has had a site on GeoCities since October 1996. She says that even if Lycos came up with $50, she wouldn't pack up her recipe and family-photo links to move to Lycos.
"There is a real sense of community at GeoCities because there are so many different neighborhoods where you can put your site," Moschner says. "There's no way I'd leave."