Lycos Unveils “Social Interaction Platform”

Lycos today plans to launch the first product in its latest incarnation as a content destination — a “social interaction platform” called Planet, adapted from an offering by corporate parent Daum Communications.

Users can create a mini site, or “planet,” without any HTML coding. They can then add a blog, or upload photos and create slide shows with animated special effects and music using Lycos’ Flash-based MyTV Player.

“Our intent was not to create another profile product, like Friendster or MySpace,” Brian Kalinowski, chief content officer for Lycos, told ClickZ News. “This was really designed as a tool for self-expression.”

Planet also has a “buddy map” feature to show users a visual representation of their network, with the people they interact with most often arranged closest to them on the page. Buddies can share content with each other through Planet’s “scrapping” feature, or add Lycos-supplied content using points accumulated over time. Lycos plans to roll out additional music, search and nickname features in coming weeks.

The U.S. version of Planet is being launched on Lycos’ Angelfire community, made up of 10 million teens and young adults. Lycos will roll out Planet to its 12 million Tripod users, and add a Lycos-branded front door, in coming weeks. Daum has been successful with its version of Planet in Korea, building up more than 8 million users in the year since it launched.

Near-term plans do not include advertising within the planets, but future opportunities could arise for sponsored planets, or for ads placed in planets with the owner’s permission.

“Our intent is to let the audience work with us to see what works for them,” Kalinowski said. “At this point, our goal is to focus on creating the infrastructure to support as many planets as possible.”

Planet is the first product to support Lycos’ bid to become a destination platform for content creators and content consumers. This isn’t the first time Lycos has shifted strategy in recent years. Lycos launched in 1994, and was once counted among the powerhouses of early search engines. The company was acquired by Spanish Internet giant Terra for $12.5 billion in 2000, and refocused on search in 2001. Lycos foundered under Terra’s guidance, lacking a clear vision or strong corporate backing. Its strategy shifted from search to portal to social network.

Terra sold off its U.S. operations to South Korean online media group Daum Communications last August for a paltry $545 million.

After Daum’s acquisition, the company launched the Circles “social sharing platform.” It debuted in October 2004, but was discontinued a few months later. Lycos then turned to a niche search engine plan with a dating search engine.

The company refocused again in March, ousting CEO David Kim and handing the CEO reins to Bertelsmann vet Alfred Tolle, though the company didn’t announce the move until a few months later. Tolle proceeded to restock Lycos with former Lycos talent, re-hiring former employees as CFO, COO, general counsel and CTO, among other positions.

“Lycos fell off the radar for a long time, but now we’re reassembling Lycos,” Tolle told ClickZ News last month. “You won’t recognize where we want to be in Q1 of next year.”

That vision will include search, but will hinge on the building, distributing and consuming of content. Some of that content will be user-generated, from blogs on Lycos’ Tripod and Angelfire networks. Other content will be created by Lycos or will come from strategic partners like record labels, book publishers, and movie studios.

Lycos will also work in coming months to bring its various properties together under the Lycos brand, and create more integration between properties, Tolle said. Some of its more well-known brands, like Wired News, will most likely not disappear, but will feature a “powered by Lycos’ designation, he said. A major rebranding campaign is expected early in 2006.

Upcoming product launches include some “helpful search” applications, and more applications borrowed from Daum. If all goes well, Lycos will be poised for an IPO in 2007, Tolle added.

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