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Webtop Brings Search to Desktop

Upstart search firm WebTop Wednesday unveiled a new tool that's designed to expand Web searches beyond the browser.

The England-based company gave InternetNews.com a sneak peek at WebCheck at Internet World Chicago 2000. WebCheck is a new tool that allows users to conduct context-sensitive searches independently of a browser.

The key advantage of WebCheck, the company said, is its ability to conduct detailed searches without starting a new instance of a browser. Users simply highlight relevant text and drag it to the WebCheck icon on the desktop. The application then queries the WebTop service and returns context-sensitive results. At the heart of the new service is a free application available from the company's Web site.

In the future, the company plans to roll out personalized results that are delivered whenever a user desires. The service will also work with a variety of Internet-enabled devices.

WebTop, a subsidiary of Bright Station Plc which was founded in October 1999, was born out of technology created by the Dialog Corp. The company now employees 25 and has already indexed a half billion Web documents.

WebTop Chief Executive Officer John Snyder said the company was created with the goal of evolving search beyond the simple text queries that dominate today.

"Search is actively used, but it hasn't changed much in the last five years. You still have to type in some words to get started. Search engines also tend to generalize which causes a lot of unorganized documents to pop up. Our approach is to get more context for users and organize the results better to provide a personalized experience," he said.

The company has three main areas: the flagship search service, information zones which contain content organized into a variety of categories which is then sold to portals and Web sites, and a trend analysis service. The analytical service takes the information in queries to understand the types of information users are seeking. This is done without collecting personal data from users or tracking a user's surfing habits.

The technology behind the search is dubbed ActiveIQ. It's essentially content extraction based on probability. It takes into account a person's interests and uses them to determine the relevance of a particular key word or phrase.

WebTop has several revenue streams. It charges customers to write specially-designed activity applications that companies then give to their users. It also maintains the editorial content for areas it calls "content zones" and charges a monthly fee for managing them.

The company has already signed deals with Netscape in Europe, as well as online currency site Beenz.com It also offers businesses the ability to brand WebCheck and to package their content in a WebTop zone.