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The venerable About.Com is on the auction block. Founded in 1996 as the Mining Company, About is one of the oldest well-known Internet properties.

In October 2000, About was purchased by Primemedia for $690Million worth of stocks. Today, the final bids are being accepted from five companies are thought to be in the $300 – $500Million range.

The five companies expected to offer final bids are; Google, Yahoo, The New York Times, AOL/TimeWarner, and Ask Jeeves. The auction, which is managed by Goldman Sachs, has been quietly active for just over a month.

About has seen difficult times over the past few years. While carries has more information on more subjects than most websites, most web-users never included in the “must-visit-everyday” category of news and information sites.

Interest expressed in About from major search engines is not surprising but then again, neither is the bid from the NYTimes. About.com has a massive directory network of expert sites. It also has a huge archive of topic-based articles. Long-time search readers will remember Search Engine Guide editor Jennifer Laycock’s daily columns in About.Com.

The future of About.com depends on which of the five firms place the winning bid. Perhaps we are about to see the massive reporting resources of the New York Times appearing at About. On the other hand, perhaps About is smaller than the sum of its parts and one of the four search firms bidding will walk away with a larger advertising network. Whatever happens, About.com has suddenly become very interesting.