When I started looking around the Internet for programs that might help my surfing, I came across "Top 10 - Information Agents", and its author, Rick Hauser. He suggested I ought to pull my experience together and share it. The Gopher Hole, home of my alter ego, "The Internet Gopher", is the result.
Since I retired in 1996, I have set up a sideline, searching and monitoring the Internet for clients. I also do hands-on training to help people find out what the Internet is all about, and how to get the most out of their Internet connection. As a result of the questions I get, I am particularly interested in anything that will help me find information on the Internet more efficiently. After 27 years in industrial R&D it is fantastic to work from home, and get to play all the music I want, with no one to ask me to turn it down. It is like being given my own library, but without an index - but more of that later
When I first went on line in 1995, Netscape had a primative bookmark program. Over time, all the browsers have improved the way they store and manaage your bookmarks or Favorities, and now they quite suitable for most purposes. I quickly found that a well organized set of bookmarks was the best way to keep track of where I had been, and how to get back there fast when I needed to. It was also a neat way to deliver information to a customer or friend. With little or no effort bookmarks can be turned into an HTML file which can be attached to an email. Once received, it can be loaded into a browser and viewed as a web page, with all the hypertext links fired up and ready to surf. It beats typing reports and creating HTML pages from scratch.
I quickly found that it was better to store all the bookmarks I collected in a black hole called Powermarks. I can then rapidly and easily locate what I want using its simple, sophisticated, fast, keyword search window. It is a small but very versatile program, and it copes easily with my collection of over 4000 bookmarks. It can load bookmarks into any browser on your system, Internet Explorer, Opera, or Netscape Navigator, but it is independent of all of them.
Writing software for a living must be nerve wracking at the moment. My grey hairs come from old age, not from wondering if your next piece of software will be beaten to the market, or simply overtaken by new developments. The bookmark programs were probably the seed out of which grew three main developments, which I will cover in more detail later on. Bookmark storage and organizer programs, off-line browsing, and automatic monitoring of sites for changes in content or links
Now big hard discs are more common, why not keep a copy of a well thumbed bookmarked web page on your hard disc where you can refer to it whenever you want to without inflating the profits of the local phone company? It is a small step from one page to a folder of newspaper, software, sports,.... web pages which you want to read every morning. Do it with the graphics off, it is much faster. It will soon become clear that I am dedicated to getting off line as fast as possible, with as much booty as possible (Fast Modem Slow Browser Society). Once you have a copy of the page it is easy for a program such as NetAttache Pro to compare any update of the page with the old one still on the disc, and highlight anything which has changed.
This has happened very rapidly over the last few months, and now many companies are involved. In almost every case no sooner is one version out than the next one is available for trial in a beta form. It is fascinating for me, as a user, but must make business planning, and cash flow very difficult. It also explains why I scan the software archives every morning for an announcement of yet another wonder program which I just have to download and try. I don't call these programs "intelligent agents" although they are certainly "personal agents" which routinely save me time by doing the manual tasks that I don't want to do, faster and more reliably than I can do them.
Microsoft and Netscape are muscling into this area fast, and what they offer should suit most people, but I prefer a broad set of specialist tools which do what I want them to, like my email and news group reader Agent. It also enables me to change browsers etc., without worrying about my bookmarks, email, newsgroups, downloaded web sites, etc.
Where next? I think the next challenge is to find ways to search for new information more efficiently than at present. As with software, the search engine race is really on, with big money at stake from advertising and Intranet/Big Site applications for the ones which are thought to be the best. The improvement could come in the searching/indexing of pages by the search engines, and the way they display the results of your search. The race is also on to catalog even more of the available web pages. In this case however, the quality of coverage is better than sheer quantity.
Crucial to all of this work is being able to define your problem clearly. Recognizing it when you see it, does not help. Recently search engines have started allowing you to search for more pages like one you have already found, and the clustering of results into topic groups is more common.
The final area I am interested in is the delivery of personalized news. This is receiving a lot of attention on the web at the moment. Simple filtered news delivery is available via a personalized web page or email. What I am looking for is an intelligent system which will learn what I am interested in. I am using at Excite News Tracker at the moment.
This is where I am at the moment with my attempts to research and monitor the Internet. A recent improvement is the History function, particularly in Internet Explorer, which keeps a record of which sites you have visited aand when. This is a useful adjunct to your bookmark collection. I have been using The Internet Tree to do this for a couple of years. It acts as a personal assistant and keeps track of where I have been and what I have done, including downloads and FTP, in a very efficient way.
I would appreciate information from any other people who are active in this area about programs they are aware of, which ought to be included, plus any comments which they might want mentioned in any future updates of these pages. The following pages give more specific information on my experiences with using software to do the things I have been describing. They contain a list of the software I have tried, with my thoughts on what they do, or don't do.
Roger Trobridge, The Internet Gopher, email@example.com