British Telecommunications Plc and Rupert Murdoch’s News International Plc’s venture company Springboard Internet Services Ltd, has re-launched its LineOne internet content service after only 20 weeks. It looks as if the first attempt wasn’t much of a success, as it’s only got 15,000 subscribers and customer feedback has shown the service to be too confusing for the consumer market. The LineOne service has also been reduced in price to the same pricing as Microsoft Corp’s Microsoft Network, with charges of 14.95 pounds from 16.95 pounds for a dial-up internet connection unlimited monthly usage, and 4.95 pounds from 6.95 pounds for unlimited content only. The new service, which is entering beta test, will be available to users in three weeks. The new version is simplified, with a more central focus for personal agent technology from the web search engine specialist Cambridge, UK-based start-up Autonomy Systems Plc. Autonomy’s Founder and Managing Director Dr Mike Lynch claims that the i3 Agentware technology is superior to agent products from other agent specialists such as Verity Inc, and General Magic Inc. The major difference is the use of context comparison rather than plain text comparison which the agent software achieves by using pattern recognition with artificial intelligence and neural network technology. This enables the delivery truly personalized services, which can be left to roam LineOne and the internet, searching for items, which either alerts or electronic mails items to the user when logged off the service. Autonomy has also developed an agent that delivers personalised advertising to the consumer, and builds up an ongoing profile of the user, so it can feed them increasingly pertinent information. Mike Lynch claims that LineOne in its new form is the showcase for Autonomy’s agent systems. LineOne draws content its from News International’s titles and other third party sources, and is designed to be a service that caters exclusively for UK consumers.
Similar service in the US
The service is apparently a template that can be used to create other national internet content services in other countries. All this combined, according to LineOne Service Director Chris Lloyd, puts LineOne well ahead of the other big content providers – the Microsoft Network and America Online Inc. LineOne aims to capture one third of the 600,000 new internet users in the next year. Springboard has no plans to enter the international ISP service space yet or alter the UK content focus. But with both Springboard partners with strong American presence, BT moving into the American ISP space with the MCI Corp merger and News Corp’s major American holdings of Fox TV and News America Publishing Inc, it looks like only a matter of time before a similar service is available in the US. The previously announced aim of LineOne was to gain five million subscribers (CI No 3,133), but with a projected subscriber rate of an extra 200,000 every year, it is going to be a long time getting there. However, by the spring, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp will be entering into UK digital television, with British Interactive Broadcasting Ltd, a joint venture 32.5% owned by Murdoch’s UK satellite television company British Sky Broadcasting Plc, and 32.5% by British Telecom, 20% by Midland Bank Plc, and 10% by Matsuishita Electric Ltd. The set-top boxes sold at launch will be subsidized to a price of 200 pounds, and include a modem and a bundled internet service, which will be the cheapest way for consumers to get on the internet. British Interactive Broadcasting is cagey about who its Internet service provider is going to be, saying only that it will offer a consumer orientated service. Of course, should British Interactive Broadcasting pick Springboard as its internet service provider, and if it manages to sell the 1 million set top boxes it anticipates, LineOne would become the largest UK internet provider extremely quickly.
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