For the next big idea in Internet navigation, don't look to browser kings Microsoft and America Online. They seem more concerned about using their Web browsers to consolidate their own power -- adding buttons that send us to their business partners -- than about empowering frustrated Web surfers.
Look instead to dotcomland, where a batch of navigation aids was fortunate enough to get funding before Wall Street soured on Internet ideas.
A few of the software programs rolling out this summer have the potential to dramatically alter the way we see the Web, much as Marc Andreessen's Mosaic browser did when it gave us point-and-click graphical navigation in 1993.
The software comes in many flavors and bears fanciful names such as Octopus, CallTheShots, OnePage, Snippets and DoDots. All aim to give us faster access to information we deem relevant.
DoDots and Snippets work separately from our Web browser as small programs we can download and keep on our computer desktop. I found Snippets surprisingly useful because with one click I could open a tiny dictionary from the bottom of my screen and look up a word, or monitor news headlines about companies I follow.
Even more powerful are the programs that work directly inside our ordinary Web browsers: Octopus and CallTheShots. Their creators hope they will help fulfill the Web's much-hyped promise of personalization by letting us rearrange content to match our interests.
Both Octopus and CallTheShots developed page-editing interfaces that appear inside Microsoft's Internet Explorer or AOL's Netscape browser. They let people create custom Web pages by pulling live content -- such as stock quotes, job listings or weather maps -- from different Web sites and assembling them on one page. Because the custom pages pull nuggets of information from different sources in real time, they are more like micro-sites than pages.
The two companies are pursuing different business strategies. They disagree on who should control the customization -- Web site publishers or their customers.
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