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Businessweek Archives

A Brainy Agent That Sifts The Net For You

Bits & Bytes


IT SEEMS SO SMART: USE software to scour the far-flung corners of the Internet to search for data. Sadly, though, many of the early so-called intelligent-agent programs scored low on I.Q. tests. Now, Autonomy Inc., a British company recently transplanted to Palo Alto, Calif., says it has a smarter agent.

The technology, dubbed Agentware, allows consumers to search for information based on concepts rather than just key words. For instance, when you ask for material on the Pittsburgh Pirates, you'll just get baseball stuff, not everything about pirates and Pittsburgh. Plus, Autonomy's agents--which scan what you read to learn your interests--lurk on the Web and send out E-mail alerts when something relevant pops up. Autonomy, which already has British customers, is talking to prospects here. Deals are expected soon with Associated Press, Macmillan Publishing Co., and others willing to shell out $20,000 to $500,000, depending on the number of features.EDITED BY IRA SAGER Steve HammReturn to top


WANT TO GO ONLINE FROM the bathroom, the basement, or the backyard? Well, now there's a solution for Internet junkies whose personal computers happen to be nowhere near a phone jack. The Wireless Web Jack from Phonex Corp. in Midvale, Utah, will allow you to send data across the electrical wiring in your house. The setup is a snap: Simply plug a Web Jack base into a phone jack and a nearby outlet, then stick one or more remote jacks into outlets elsewhere in the house. When you connect your modem to the remote jack, its signal is converted so that the data can be carried at up to 33.6 Kbps over your AC wiring and out to the Net via the base unit.

The Wireless Web Jack--which costs $99 for a base and remote unit and $49 for additional remotes--is not just for the home: Schools and small businesses could find it a nifty way to get around the expense of installing phone jacks. The Wireless Web Jack will be available in retail stores in October.EDITED BY IRA SAGER Andy ReinhardtReturn to top


IMAGINE DILBERT BEFORE THE CYNICISM, BEFORE THE jadedness of corporate culture turned him into the sarcastic cartoon character that millions love. Dilbert, say around age of 10. That's what Dan Elenbaas, the founder and chairman of software startup KnowWonder Inc., did, and he persuaded creator Scott Adams to develop a new character--Young Dilbert--for a line of kids' software.

So what is little Dilbert into? He's a budding technophile, what else. KnowWonder has licensed the character for a family of programs called The Totally Techie World of Young Dilbert that will hit store shelves on Oct. 1. The first program will include Dilbert's familiar pals Dogbert, Ratbert, and Bob the Dinosaur. The edutainment program, designed for kids 5 and up, will teach them about the inner workings of a computer as well as other high-tech wonders such as the World Wide Web and online reference tools. In one game, Young Dilbert battles a computer virus. Kids learn about the parts of a computer as they help Young Dilbert fix components such as a disk drive infected by a bug. The programs will be priced at $34.95.EDITED BY IRA SAGERReturn to top


NETIZENS MAY BE RELUCTANT to buy sofas or TVs over the World Wide Web, but they have no problem snapping up securities. The number of accounts in which investors buy and sell securities on the Net will reach 3 million by the end of 1997, up from 1.5 million in 1996, according to Forrester Research Inc. That's only a sliver of the more than 60 million retail investment accounts in the U.S., but it adds up to around $120 billion in assets managed online. By 2002, online investing is expected to grow to 14.4 million accounts and $688 billion--about 4.6% of all retail investment assets.

That's surprising, considering that just a year ago most traditional brokerage firms thought the Net too immature a vehicle for investing, according to Forrester. What's more, half of the 50 firms surveyed say they are turning a profit or breaking even on their Net accounts, thanks to the efficiency of all-electronic operations. So far, Charles Schwab & Co. and E*Trade--which control some 40% of all online investment accounts--are the leaders. But those companies could be squeezed by new entrants, says Forrester, unless they strengthen online advisory services and expand the financial services they offer into such fields as auto loans and mortgages.EDITED BY IRA SAGER Paul C. JudgeReturn to top

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