Netscape Communications has announced a new members-only, but free, online service, designed to turn its already popular Web site into a major, global hub for electronic commerce and communications.
Netscape's Netcenter Internet online service has started with one million members culled from Netscape's existing content services.
Netcenter will eventually be offered in foreign language versions, the first to be launched in China in cooperation with China Internet Corporation (CIC).
CIC is the first of a number of partners Netscape will enlist under its international Internet site affiliate program, officials said. Netscape is in discussions with other possible partners around the world but did not specify which non-English language version of Netcenter will be available soon. Currently Netscape's Web site is offered in 10 localised versions including all major European languages, Japanese and Korean.
With 1000 content providers, Netcenter will soon turn into the highest value community on the Internet, Netscape officials said.
"We'll aggressively recruit more members from our 65 million users," said Mike Homer, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Netscape, California.
There will also be a community section offering e-mail, discussion forums and other means for electronic collaboration between professionals and businesses.
Finally, there will be a software section allowing users to purchase and download the latest and greatest software from a variety of developers, Homer said.
Also part of Netscape Netcenter's launch are the two previously announced services, Netscape Virtual Office by Concentric and Netscape Software Depot by software.net services.
Web surfers signing up for membership will be able to personalise the services available on the site. The profiles can be changed any time by presenting a free WebPass identification, a new digital ID which Netscape and VeriSign will offer to Netcenter members.
Also part of Netcenter will be the new Industry Watch program to be launched in the fourth quarter which will offer users the chance to track developments in specific industries, Homer said.
In addition, the online service will include Netscape's Guide by Yahoo!, Internet guides which list content by categories and Netscape In-Box Direct, an e-mail-based news content delivery service. Also scheduled to be available before the end of the year is the newly announced Netscape Professional Community service which will offer professionals information on specific industries.
As an affiliate, CIC will be responsible for launching and running Netscape's Internet site in China, as well as localising information and developing local content and business relationships, Homer said.
CIC will offer content services in its original language as well as translated Chinese versions of news services such as Bloomberg, Reuters, Financial Times and Japan's Nikkei, said Peter Yip, executive vice chairman at CIC.
The company will also meet with Time Inc shortly, hoping to strike deals to bring an Internet version of Time's leading magazines to China, Yip said.
"China accounts for 10 per cent of the global market, with 12 million PC users today and 20 million users in two years," Yip said.
He added that the Chinese government at the next People's Congress will take new steps toward further opening the Chinese market to the US and other foreign investors.
The Netscape Chinese site will incorporate Netscape product and company information, the Netscape Guide for the Chinese market, the Netscape Net Search program, the Netscape In-Box Direct program and Netscape Netcaster channels in China.
In cooperation with China's Ministry of Post and Telecommunications (MPT), China Internet Corporation developed China Wide Web, a nationwide online business information project that spans China, company officials said.
Users of version 3.0 of Netscape's Navigator browser and Microsoft's Internet Explorer will also be able to access Netcenter but won't be able to take advantage of all its offerings, Homer said.
China Internet Corporation www.china.com