December 2, 1996 10:00 AM

NETbot puts wrappers on crawler
Startup's intelligent agents streamline Web info gathering

By Michael Moeller

  A Seattle-based startup is designing a software architecture that uses intelligent agents to streamline searching for information on the Internet or across intranets.

Founded in May, NETbot Inc. is an outgrowth of intelligent-agent research conducted at the University of Washington, in Seattle. The company has its roots in a noncommercial search service, called MetaCrawler, that was created at the university and has been running since June 1995.

NETbot's agent technology is a client/server system that provides users with a single interface to enter queries and a complex database on the back end to understand the query and to ping multiple back-end search engines on the user's behalf.

The new system makes use of a technology called "wrappers" that tells an agent how to query for information on a specific topic. For example, a wrapper could be created to instruct an agent on where and how to ask for information for a specific job search or to find job candidates.

Using a natural-language query, NETbot would then transmit the query to a back-end Query Routing Server, which is a massive index of pointers to likely places on the Web where the requested information might be found. The Query Routing Server then instructs the client-side NETbot where to search for the information.

The client sends out multiple parallel queries on behalf of the user to the suggested sites, retrieves the information and aggregates the responses to avoid duplication of search results.

Some of the examples of wrappers that NETbot could likely release early next year include a job search wrapper, a news retrieval wrapper and a people finder wrapper. A number of wrappers will be bundled with the client, but the technology is designed to enable users to download additional wrappers over the Internet to conduct other types of searches, NETbot officials said.

The company initially will focus on Internet search capabilities, but the NETbot architecture also is suitable for use on corporate intranets. For the corporate market, NETbot may create a software development kit that would enable corporate programmers to write their own wrappers, the officials said.

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