In their quest for the next "killer app" on the Web, some entrepreneurs have no doubt that push may just come from Web-based notes.
The concept, which allows visitors to post notes on a Web page, has a new generation of communications software players gearing up to deliver real-time interests with a variety of communications utilities.
One young Israeli Internet company, Hypernix, debut its freeware product called Gooey, which allows Netizens to interact and communicate anywhere on the Web, as a natural, integrated part of the surfing experience.
Gooey is a Windows compatible application that is available as a free download.
Founded in January, 1999, Hypernix principals include a securities attorney, co chief executive Ran Shalom and co chief executive Shai Adler, a corporate lawyer.
The company's chief financial officer and chief market officer, Yaron Zilberman is an international financier and marketing executive and co-creative director Ron Guetta, a screenwriter and co creative director Yoav Ruda, a filmmaker.
The concept of Gooey was created by Guetta and Ruda. During an online research session, they came across an interactive art installation located in Tokyo which offered visitors the occasion to interact with a lighting sculpture and see the result in real time.
The two men caught a pattern in the lighting changes and realised the people who were on the site at that moment were communicating by alternating the light in specific patterns. They envisioned an Internet application that would provide smooth communication between people simultaneously visiting the same Web site.
"The Web didn't fulfil its promise. It's about computers being connected, not people," said Zilberman. "Until now, the Web has been either about content or about chatting. It's like having to leave a restaurant in order to have a conversation, or having to go to a bar alone."
The way the software works is that anyone who has it running will see two windows appear on whatever Web site the user visits. One window will list the nicknames of other Gooey users who are at the site at the same time. Another window is running a chat room for Gooey members.
The move follows the release of similar software in May by an unrelated company, Third Voice. The capabilities of Third Voice's technology provides the means for any person to furnish his or her own opinions, a third voice, to use the content of a Web site.
With its software, users can post little notes on websites and the website being commented on has no control over the comments.
That software allows users to comment on Web page content through a message board instead of a chat room. Anyone who has downloaded the Third Voice software can then read those comments.
The technology works on a client server system. Third Voice presents a panel on the upper left-hand corner of the user's browser. Comments made by users are stored at the Third Voice office with a record of the URL they apply to. And when other users who have downloaded the Third Voice software go to a Web page, they see a small yellow tag in the text.
By clicking on the tag, they can see comments made about that section of text and they can also reply to the messages.
Notes come in three flavours, Personal Notes, which are stored locally on your PC and cannot be accessed by others; Group Notes, which are accessible by members of a password-protected group and Public Notes. The notes can be up to 5,000 characters long and there is a 30-day time-out on Group and Public notes after which they are archived.
However, a new Web utility that allows viewers add their comments to Web pages has generated unexpected consequences and forced its creator to scramble for a fix.
Programmers in the US and Europe discovered security holes in the company's software that turn it into a cracking tool that can call up users' data and be used to create counterfeit Web pages.
Jeremy Bowers, a US programmer, initially discovered problems in the software that enable users to post not only text but also programming code in the Third Voice notes.
If the code is maliciously designed, it could perform a number of compromising tasks when it is executed on users' computers.
One example of what Bowers was able to do was to make fake Web pages appear to Third Voice users. The page was not really changed but a page generated by Java script made it look like it was.
A user seeing the fake page might transmit private data such as IDs or passwords. Bowers informed Third Voice of the problem and the company fixed the problem and issued an updated version of the software.
Recently, three security specialists from Malta got around the fix using more complicated programming. Using a modified version of the Third Voice software that they created, the three were able to put Java script into notes.
The three, known as the Netfishers, then used the scripts to gather site IDs and passwords from Third Voice users.
According to Eng-Siong Tan, chief executive and cofounder of Third Voice, the company had fixed the problem discovered by the Netfishers in less than a day. "The moment we knew about it, we put all our resources on the problem. By the end of the day, it was fixed," Tan said.
Third Voice added the new security enhancements to the server side of its system, which will not affect the usage of Third Voice nor require users to download new software, according to the company.
"We will not tolerate anyone using Third Voice for malicious or deviant purposes," Tan said. "We have taken extra steps to further bolster the security of our system, and we will continue to prevent Third Voice from becoming a launching pad for malicious behaviour, such as spreading viruses. We can assure all Third Voice users that we will not compromise the integrity of our system, and we will not violate the privacy of our users."
According to the company, Third Voice users have not reported any harm coming from security violations, nor have any users accessed Third Voice to spread a virus.
Taking a different approach to Web notes, an Israeli start-up introduced a new, two way, multi user communication platform, in late July, which allows Internet users to exchange knowledge and opinions through Internet notes posted on any Web page.
Called Utok, users' tree of knowledge, the software displays the notes in a separate window and saves notes on the Utok server which leaves the displayed Web page untouched and protecting all original Web content.
Users are notified of replies to public and private notes. The software interconnects web surfers with one another and enables users to communicate using notes "attached" to Internet locations.
Filtering and sorting tools let users decide what and how much to read. And a user-driven ratings system emphasises important postings and minimises irrelevant or off-topic messages.
"We have a deep understanding of today's Internet users' needs, so we have created utok both as functional research and a communication tool as well as a fun to use client that broadens the concept of communities on the Internet," said Orit Shmaya, president and co-founder of utok.
He also said that a five-star rating system allows utok users to self-moderate the posted notes, which reduces clutter and irrelevant information.
Just a few weeks ago, start-up NovaWiz announced the worldwide launch of Odigo, which merges instant messaging, chat-on-page and temporary web page note posting tools into one application.
According to Shai Buber of NovaWiz, Odigo grew out of users' frustration with the limits of current technology. "Odigo gives Internet users the tools they need to find the most popular sites on a given topic in real-time and to engage the people on those sites who share their interests."
He pointed out that Odigo has a significant advantage over commercially motivated search engines because Odigo's search results are based on real-time
surfing behaviour of Odigo users.
Odigo enables its users to communicate with other people on the web through instant messaging, e-mail and chat-on-page. When visiting a web page, temporary notes can be posted on Odigo that can be viewed by other users on that particular page. The messages disappear from Odigo when the user who posted them logs off.
Like Utok, Odigo also creates a separate application window on the user's computer, but instead of resembling an email application, it looks something like a futuristic remote control.
At the site, consumers can use the tool to "find like minds" by watching where users of similar tastes come together on the Web. Users can also fill out identity cards and chat with fellow Odigo users.
Even though each of the Web notes players have taken a slightly different course, they all hope to successfully ride the next wave of the Internet. And some analysts are painting a bright future for these niche players.
"The common belief that every market is overcrowded is a myth," said Allen Weiner, analyst at NetRatings. "We're about to enter a period of verticalisation of the Web, with a proliferation of interest specific content and ecommerce sites. Each is going to require the necessary tools and infrastructure to really be strong."
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