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Magazines > Information Today > May 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 5 — May 2003
NEWSBREAKS UPDATE
News on Web Resources, divine/RoweCom, More
By Paula Hane

The war in Iraq and the health crisis spawned by the SARS virus dominated the news over the last month or so. Information industry news seemed a bit subdued in comparison, yet there were still a number of important developments.

The War in Iraq

On March 31, we posted a NewsBreak about the various Web resources for following news about the war
(http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb030331-1.shtml). Irene McDermott supplied a number of offerings that provided balanced news, transcripts, background information, differing viewpoints, and directories. What made the biggest impression on me was the access to online multimedia resources. I could hear radio reports, watch live and archived streaming video, interact with maps, and even view satellite photos. As might be expected, my two teenage sons took it all for granted, not comprehending at all how far technology has come.

Homeland Security

Showing both altruism and marketing savvy, LexisNexis offered free information about the war, including news, government and public responses, homeland security and terrorism measures, economic impact, and even selected television transcripts. Earlier this year, West introduced a series of Homeland Security and Anti-Terrorism databases on Westlaw to help legal professionals focus their research in this area of U.S. law.

Various U.S. agencies continued to work with the Department of Homeland Security on a number of information-sharing initiatives concerning counterterrorism and intelligence functions. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is testing a computer system called Total Information Awareness. This controversial data-mining tool, which has definitely raised some privacy concerns, scans information about passports, visas, airline ticket purchases, hotel rooms, over-the-counter drugs, chemicals, etc., to discern patterns of terrorist behavior.

In other news, the FBI recently selected ClearForest's ClearTags and ClearResearch products to power the Terrorism and Intelligence Data Information Sharing Data Mart, its new data-management system. The ClearForest products read, extract, and process any type of unstructured content from multiple sources. The FBI is deploying ClearResearch on the desktops of its 300 analysts. This tool will enable them to quickly draw previously unknown insights from counterterrorism intelligence that's been gathered from disparate sources and "to respond immediately and efficiently to field events, based on the total information environment."

According to the announcement, the bureau plans to connect the data mart to state and local databases, telephone records, Pentagon databases, DEAandATF databases, the State Department's visa database, and other agencies.

Have You Yahoo!-ed Lately?

There's been a small buzz of activity in the search arena lately. Yahoo! launchedits new Yahoo! Search (http://search.yahoo.com) with a cleaner, easier-to-use interface. It features a new image search, keyword shortcuts to information (such as news, Yellow Pages, weather, and maps), and a number of other enhancements. It even launched a beta search for products. With this latest change, Yahoo! has sure come a long way from its start as a Web directory.

The home page offers tabs to focus a search to the Web, a directory (yes, you can still browse or search it), news, images, Yellow Pages, and maps. With the keyword shortcuts, you can locate information such as directions and addresses. Local businesses can be retrieved by simply typing the ZIP code or a city and state and the business (for example, "94089 pizza"). You can get a dictionary definition by typing "define" and the word you'd like to look up. Adding an exclamation point to the search term also provides a shortcut to Yahoo!'s products and services. For example, you can type "mail!" or "finance!" to take you to those areas.

The company also said it's accelerating its efforts to integrate Inktomi's search technology, following its recent acquisition. At this time, Google is still powering Yahoo!. I've noticed, however, that I generally get better results using Google's own news search (http://news.google.com) than Yahoo!'s. Still, it's good to have choices.

Ask Jeeves Relaunches Ask.com

As this issue went to press, Ask Jeeves announced the relaunch of Ask.com, noting that it's not trying to be more like Google—in fact, quite the opposite. According to the company, the new site has been designed to address common search obstacles. Ask Jeeves says it recognizes that people search in different ways and want an engine that can meet their various needs.

Ask Jeeves'new Smart Search tools are modeled after real user behavior. Some search examples include the following:

• Searches for direct answers (e.g., state capitals)

• Searches for comprehensive research (e.g., locating information for a term paper)

• Commerce searches (e.g., finding where to purchase groceries online)

Like Yahoo! Search, Ask Jeeves is offering faster ways to get to information. For example, you can now search for pictures and news directly from the home page. The site is also leaner after the removal of some heavy graphics, and the company says searches will be 50-percent faster.

Distributed Web Crawling

Meanwhile, LookSmart introduced what it's calling "breakthrough distributed crawling technology." According to the company, the new technology allows individuals, businesses, and organizations to donate their computers' unused processing power to a program that continually crawls the Net, indexing Web sites and other documents. The data is gathered into a daily-updated registry of Web sites, which will be used to provide "accurate, up-to-the-minute results for search engines, including those owned by LookSmart."

Junghoo Cho, assistant professor of computer science at UCLA, said, "By sharing the task of crawling and updating the Web among many thousands of end users, distributed crawling may provide a solution to one of the main problems of current Internet search technologies."

LookSmart is building its distributed crawling capability with technology from Grub, Inc., an Oklahoma-based developer of distributed computing software that LookSmart acquired in January. TheGrub software can be downloaded at http://www.grub.org. Once installed, it utilizes idle resources on the user's computer to crawl Web sites, including the user's own site. The software then sends a compressedfeed of changes back to the central registryfor indexing after a crawl is completed. To minimize the impact of crawling, Webmasters can fine-tune the behavior of the client and elect to only crawl content within their own LAN.

In the SearchDay newsletter, Chris Sherman reported that in his tests, Grub didn't interfere with the other applications he was running. He also said that watching a crawler in action is fascinating. And since Grub allows users to run a "local" crawl of a site every night, he said, "This is a great way to ensure that all of the content on your site gets crawled."

FluentMedia Logs Steady Content Growth

FluentMedia, a content-licensing agency ofTribune Co., has broadened its supply of international news and commentary with the recent additions of the Financial Times, BBC Monitoring, and Primedia Business Magazines & Media to its list of information providers.

These additions mark a steady and continuous move by the Tribune Agency into major contention for content distribution in the corporate market. The company recently announced that it has been selected by Northern Trust Corp. to supply daily feeds of market-related news to the bank's intranet and extranet sites. FluentMedia will provide custom filters to deliver coverage of subjects that are important to the bank and its individual, corporate, and institutional clients. FluentMedia software also lets Web site managers review and select content as well as add their own summaries and prioritize articles.

FluentMedia was featured in two articles in the April issue of EContent. David Scott, formerly of NewsEdge and now a consultant, wrote, "Excellent U.S. newspaper content, good topic filters, and easy-to-use editorial tools make the FluentMedia service worth a look."

RoweCom Update

EBSCO has confirmed that on April 7, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court approved the sale of RoweCom's U.S. assets to EBSCO. The sale includes the U.S. operations of RoweCom, Inc., as well as Dawson, Inc., Dawson Information Quest, Inc., The Faxon Co., Inc., Turner Subscription Agency, Inc., McGregor Subscription Service, Inc., and Corporate Subscription Services, Inc.

The sale is contingent on the verification of publisher support representing "at least 50 percent of the aggregate monetary amount prepaid to RoweCom by customers," which was not subsequently forwarded to publishers, and on EBSCO's successful closure of its RoweCom Europeacquisition, which is contingent on the receipt of French regulatory approval. According to EBSCO in mid-April, "both items are expected to be finalized in the next few weeks."

EBSCO has also finalized its purchase of RoweCom Australia. The orders of RoweCom Australia customers who prepaid RoweCom, but whose payments were not forwarded to publishers, will be graced by publishers. This is similar to what's happening in the U.S. These customers will be transferring their bankruptcy claim to participating publishers in exchange for 2003 issues.

divine Dealings

And what about the fate of RoweCom's parent, divine, Inc., which itself declared bankruptcy in late February? As this issue went to press, a number of potential buyers—for all or parts of divine—were still hovering around the beleaguered company. The Chicago Tribune reported that Oak Investment Partners, which had provided equity funding to divine, was preparing a joint bid with San Francisco's Golden Gate Capital. An auction was scheduled to be held by the bankruptcy court on April 17. By the time you read this, divine's fate should be known.

divine's British subsidiary, Divine Solutions (UK), Ltd., went into bankruptcy administration in late February following the collapse of its parent. In March, the administrator appointed by the court, Begbies Traynor, announced that it had found a buyer and managed to save 39 of 66 jobs. Ken Kinsella, the president of divine's international business, apparently formed a new company called Silverprime, Ltd. and purchased Divine Solutions for an undisclosed sum. (Industry observers wondered how customers will feel about having the same hands on the tiller as before.) My phone calls to Kinsella were not returned.

Meanwhile, despite the pending legal actions (which include a federal grand jury investigation and a number of lawsuits), potential liabilities, and corporate failings, divine founder and CEO Andrew "Flip" Filipowski has reportedly purchased a minor-league baseball team. According to an article in the Charlotte Business Journal, the money-losing Winston-Salem Warthogs have been bought by Filipowski and entrepreneur Billy Prim. This certainly fits with Filipowski's track record of picking up companies at bargain prices.

For the latest industry news, check http://www.infotoday.com every Monday morning. An easier option is to sign up for our free weekly e-mail newsletter, NewsLink, which provides abstracts and links to the stories we post.

 


Paula J. Hane is Information Today, Inc.'s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks. Her e-mail address is phane@infotoday.com.
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