CompuServe's services headed for the Web

CompuServe has announced it will launch a new service on the Web and gradually migrate users of its proprietary service to this more focused and feature-rich Internet offering.

This US summer the company will release CompuServe 3.0, access software much like its CompuServe Information Manager that will also include browser access to new Web-based services, says CEO and president Bob Massey.

This release will mark the first step in CompuServe's transition to a standards-based environment that the company claims will entice both users and content providers from the current, proprietary network.

"They realise that in a period of months the Internet and Web technology will be probably well in advance of what they can do," says David Ludlum, research director at IDC/Link, in New York.

This strategic shift will also free CompuServe from having to maintain an online infrastructure and software, giving it an opportunity to concentrate more on customers and content, Massey says.

"When we pioneered the online business, we had to invest in the software and technology to make it happen," he says. "The rapid development of the Internet has changed that and provided CompuServe with a significant opportunity to take advantage of third-party technology."

Company executives are stressing that CompuServe will not abandon customers of its current offerings -- which include CompuServe Information Services, Wow, SpryNet, and corporate intranet services -- saying that they will be supported indefinitely as long as there are customers. However, executives are saying that future enhancements will be made exclusively to the Internet service, code-named Red Dog.

By the end of the year, CompuServe will offer subscribers a full range of services over the Internet that go beyond what is found on the propriety service today, adding features such as profiling users interests and culling related information from the Internet, said Denny Matteucci, president of CompuServe's on-line service division.

And because CompuServe will be freed from the burden of developing software for its service, the company will concentrate on targeting its customers needs by creating more specific communities of interest, he says.

These new features, plus the fact that Red Dog will be accessible to CompuServe subscribers through any Web browser, will draw users in, Matteucci says.

"It's just more convenient for users to be able to use a standard browser rather than dedicated client software," agrees IDC/Links Ludlum.

Service providers will also be attracted, Matteucci says, because they will be able to create a single product instead of having to tailor one version for CompuServe's proprietary service and another for the Internet.

While Massey says that CompuServe's membership pricing structure will remain the same for the time being, he predicts future changes. For example, it is possible that CompuServe will separate Internet access charges from Red Dog membership charges, which would call for a new pricing model. The company will also explore the use of advertising on its Internet-based service, executives say.

CompuServe 3.0 will be released for Windows and the Macintosh this US summer. CompuServe is at http://www.compuserve.com/.

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