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July 29, 1997updated 05 Sep 2016 12:32pm


By CBR Staff Writer

Shopping over the internet seems to have been invented for the word ‘nascent’ to be applied to it – take IBM Corp’s closing of its WorldAvenue web site this month as just one example of a technology that’s yet to find its feet. Start-up Netbot Inc has produced a tool to help speed the take-up of on-line shopping. It’s basically an intelligent search engine that looks for the products the user wants from all over the net. Users input a description prompted by the tool, based on whether they want to buy a book, CD or garden hose and so on. The results include location, product reviews and pricing. Jango can also prepare an order form and then hands the consumer off to the merchant. The current retail categories are books, cigars, coffee, computers, flowers, fragrances, garden supplies, movies, music, software, and wine. The company is hoping to add clothing, electronics, food and even cars in the near future. So, as Jango is free, how does Netbot propose to make any money? It is in the process of establishing a partner program that will enable retailers to either sponsor specific channels, which will be centered around one product area, or later on, to do real-time promotions that react to the user’s buying process. So, if the user has expressed an interest in one word processor, for instance, a rival vendor can then display a banner advert offering 10% off the price of their product. If the user lingers further, it could cut 20% off and so on. Netbot said it will not allow one retailer to have exclusive rights to promotion in each area, but it says it is also sensitive to the potential unwillingness of direct competitors to splash banners over the other company’s products. Chief scientist and co-founder Oren Etzioni says the company has had hundreds of interested retail partners contact it, including IBM, Sony and various clothing manufacturers with a view to joining its program, and it is currently sifting through the list. Whatever Netbot settles on, he says, it will offer far more value than regular banner adverts. Seattle-based Netbot was spun out last year based on five year of work done at the University of Washington on intelligent agents by Etzioni and the other co-founder Daniel Weld. Etzioni was instrumental in creating Metacrawler, an engine that searches several of the popular search engines back in 1995 that is at the heart of Jango. After some seed money, the company closed its first round of funding earlier this year from Arch ventures, which specializes in university-based projects, Ohio Partners and some other VC companies. Netbot’s not saying how much was raised beyond that it was in the millions. The company is headed by Eric Zocher, a former VP engineering at Adobe Systems Inc.

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