Excite rises again like a turkey from the ashes

Will this be third time lucky for dotcom boom darling?

Remember Excite? With the logo where the X looks like a dancing bloke? Well, it is trying again, for the third time, to recapture its dotcom boom glory - this time with a Webmail service.

"Get your old Excite-address back or register a new address with Inbox Excite," is Excite UK's fresh pitch. Excite Europe's business development manager Dr Bernhard Berger told us more: "We finally wanted to offer to our users the possibility to register their favourite Excite usernames - which are in many cases those usernames they had lost when Excite@Home terminated its operations.

"There have been around 1,000,000 Excite Inbox users then," he continued, "and we are glad to provide a chance for everyone who once had an Excite account to get it back now."

Unfortunately "have been" are very much the key words here. Excite has had a torrid time since its first inception and despite constant efforts to revive the "brand" (after all, Excite is a good name for a Net company), this looks like not so much a phoenix but a Christmas turkey rising from the ashes.

Dr Berger is quite honest about its modest aims. "We are just at the beginning - so please judge the product for what it is: a solid and basic beta, with a regularly sized storage (10MB) and a clear focus on core functionality. For now, the task was to provide a robust and user-friendly web-mail client. During the next months we are going to add numerous features, and we are convinced that our users are going to appreciate all the things we have got in our production pipeline for them."

But with the kind of bad luck that only such a troubled company can muster, Excite has launched a limited Webmail service right in the middle of a Webmail revolution sparked by Google's decision to turn the entire market on its head by offering 1GB of free storage on Gmail. Microsoft is responding heavily, as is Yahoo and just about every other big Internet name. Excite has come running out of the trenches, rifle in hand, ready to get stuck back in just as the tanks have arrived.

We wish it all the best, but Excite has missed the boat and it needs to stop reliving its glory days and come up with a radically different approach to selling the Excite name.

A brief history of Excite's woes

Excite@Home was formed by three US cable companies - Tele-Communications, Cox and Comcast just as the Internet was taking off. It worked well until AT&T got hold of Tele-Communications' share and started using the company for its own ends.

Numerous boardrooms battles broke out, with AT&T inevitably winning out and taking control of the company before running it into the ground and taking all the parts of it that it wanted. The dotcom boom frontrunner filed bankruptcy in October 2001.

In the UK, the parent Excite company had joined with BT's ISP arm BT Openworld to create Excite UK. But as soon as Excite@Home went into bankruptcy, BT decided it would go its own route. The company died. But was then reborn eight months later in July 2002 when ruthless aggregator Tiscali relaunched it as a portal. Since then, Tiscali has put almost no investment into the company with the net result that it has all but disappeared off the radar screen.

Tiscali still owns 100 per cent of Excite UK but Dr Berger assures us it operates quite independently. Without significant investment and some radical innovative ideas though, such independence is worthless. ®

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