Magazine article Online

Alert and News Services

Magazine article Online

Alert and News Services

Article excerpt

The lust for on-demand communication and information creates strange offspring. In the current transitional state of the Internet, much like an adolescent aching towards puberty, experimentation often seems the only motive for creation. In a fit of hormones myself, I took on the task of exploring a variety of these creatures. You see them called such names as personal search engines, personal news services, personal search agents, and more. Of the 26 listed here (see Internet Alert and News Services Table), I review only a handful, both to share my favorites and to highlight a novel feature or client. I am mindful of the potpourri I've gathered, the incompleteness of the list, and the roughness of the classification. Having said that, I welcome comments and suggestions from readers on their discoveries.


Before proceeding with my descriptions, let me make a few observations about the list generally and the categories into which many of these "tools" might fit. First, you can clearly divide the list into fee and free, with about eight in the former category. That's not to say that many in the free class now wont be offered for a fee in the near future. Second, alongside many of the "big" names in the publishing world, from Time-Warner to Knight-Ridder, are individuals exploring the terrain, as well as boutiques. Third, many newspapers are getting into the game, with some interesting results. I have in mind, among others, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Fourth, universities continue to develop practical tools, such as Dartmouth, with The Informant. Finally, from the vantage point of what,s down the Internet road, many are worth studying in detail.

For those who want to stay atop this subject, I just came across a new electronic newsletter named AgentNews ( agent/news/), available by email and the Web. Published irregularly by the Laboratory for Advanced Information Technology at The University of Maryland Baltimore County, it highlights AgentWeb, an information and news service that offers updates about "intelligent information agents, intentional agents, software agents, softbots, knowbots, infobots, etc."

Turning now to comments and starting with my favorites in the list, based on what I use daily and now find myself relying upon, I mention five: Fareast, Mercury Mail, ProfNet, The Informant, and URL-minder.


With the tag line: Precision Information Delivery, Fareast, at $9.95 per month, sends a broad range of news and information your way, in the categories you select, by email. For example, news covers The Associated Press, United Press International, and Newsbytes, as well as press releases from Business Wire and PR Newswire. Beyond the appeal of the breadth of the service, which includes archives, weather, sports, and stocks, two convenient features stand out: a choice of formats and the so-called droids, a type of intelligent agent. You can choose a key phrase for a droid to search in a given category and select the delivery format, such as the paragraph in which the phrase is embedded or the first paragraph of the item which contains the phrase. Also, changing, suspending, and dropping selected searches is simple based on email exchanges with the "droid" list manager.

Mercury Mail

Mercury Mail, which I've profiled in this column previously, delivers news and information by email. Not as extensive as Farcast, it does offer quite a bit on stocks, news, weather, sports, entertainment, and snow. …

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