Net search-and-present tool threatens giants

The nature of searching for information online may soon shift, with business and professional users moving to home pages absent of ad banners and enhanced with advanced research capabilities.

A new venture unveiled at Internet Showcase Jan. 28 in San Diego intends to begin stealing eyeballs away from conventional mass-market search services such as Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) and Excite Inc. (XCIT) with a one-two-three punch of capabilities that allow users to pull data off the Internet, analyze it and quickly format it for presentation to employees, executives, managers, customers and business partners.

Aeneid Corp., named after the leader of a band of Trojans who wound up creating the "new city" of Rome, demonstrated the first version of a service that will act as a "virtual report writer" for time-crunched professionals.

Its Internet Research Assistant (IRA), slated to be released in March, is intended to allow professionals to use checklists of available free information sources on the Internet to design broad or narrow searches for useful articles, images, audio files and other content; convert data that comes back into tables and other analytical graphics; and then turn text and data into useful reports to share with associates and superiors.

"This is a systematic approach to solving knowledge management" problems, particularly in small and medium-sized businesses without large support staffs, said Daniel Putterman, Aeneid's president.

The precision of its "narrowcast searches" coupled with the analytical and document building tools could change expectations about Web navigation services, according to Marc Butlein, chairman of the Meta Group Inc. consulting firm and a member of Aeneid's board. Business users, who go to the Net primarily to conduct research, could find themselves replacing splashy, consumer-oriented home pages as their first stops on the Internet, with the research assistant's no-nonsense exterior.

That would pull eyeballs away from Yahoo!, Infoseek Corp. and other current search services, but in small numbers, said Showcase organizer and industry newsletter writer David Coursey. Aeneid, at first, is aiming its catalog of information on the Net at high-tech and financial-services industries. Only later will it broaden its categorization of information sites to other industries, such as insurance or health.

Other attempts to provide deep but precise scouring of free sites, such as Quarterdeck Corp.'s Web Compass, have not fared well. "It's a tough space," he said. "Tools like that that help you do online research haven't caught on."

But Putterman isn't counting on traditional sources of revenue to pay the freight. That mainly means Aeneid will not seek out advertisers, instead relying on low monthly subscription fees, as well as software and server sales, to pay its bills.

"Yahoo! will see them as competition, because they will lose eyeballs," Coursey said. Aeneid won't see Yahoo! as its competition, because "IRA doesn't require you to leave Yahoo! to succeed."

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