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  1. Technology
November 22, 1998


By CBR Staff Writer

By Nick Patience

Developments at Centraal Corp, the company with the RealNames natural language mapping system as an alternative to regular domain names show no signs of slowing. In two weeks the Palo Alto-based startup will announce a two-year extension of its flagship deal with Compaq Computer Corp’s AltaVista search engine unit and a deepening of its technological integration within the AltaVista site. It is also in the process of closing its second round of funding with both financial and strategic partners and will announce that next week as well. On December 8 Centraal will unveil a version of its service for individual users so they can get their personal home pages included in the RealNames system and accessible by any browser or search engine that supports RealNames. Centraal chairman and chief executive Keith Tear would not go into details about the pricing structure, but says it will not be through an annual subscription. RealNames needs deals with web sites and browser manufacturers so that when users type in a brand name instead of a URL, a query is sent to the RealNames database where URLs are mapped onto regular words. Once those mappings have been established – and that’s where RealNames makes its money – queries to brand names can, in theory, take users to the relevant website. Netscape Communications Corp included a similar technology in the latest version of Communicator called Smart Browsing. At present, if someone types in a query at AltaVista, it offers a link at the top of the list of search results taking them to RealNames where they could register a RealName pertaining to the query they have just entered – so long as the RealName has not already been registered. But, says Teare, at present the mechanism pays no regard to whether or not Centraal has an appropriate keyword in its RealNames database. The improvements, which have been in tests for a couple of weeks and will be officially launched at the start of next month, will query the RealNames database and offer the user three alternatives at the AltaVista site: a full match, a partial match, or no match at all. Teare says it has not been done before because the added overhead of an additional database query would make the search engine process too slow. A search engine query takes about 100 milliseconds, says Teare and a RealNames database inquiry was taking 30 milliseconds, so it would have added about a third to an AltaVista query. But, says Teare, Centraal has now got its database queries down to one millisecond through new data structures deployed on Centraal’s resolvers and AltaVista is testing it internally. Teare reckons that RealNames failed to match a query about 20% of the time. Centraal also recently signed a deal with Bigfoot International Inc’s NeoPlanet browser unit. NeoPlanet is a browser aimed at ISPs and OEMs who want to provide their users with a customized browser. It is based on Microsoft Corp Internet Explorer technology. It’s deal with the LookSmart search engine goes live this week, having been delayed slightly by technical issues. On the sales side, Centraal aims to make money through selling what it calls resolutions, whereby companies with brand names or trademarks will pay Centraal each time a user is passed on to them; the idea being that someone who has typed in a specific brand name is already more likely to engage in commerce with that company so the visitor is more valuable to them than someone who stumbles across the brand name owner’s site. The company has a target of 125 companies paying for resolutions by January 1. Teare says there are 180 in the pipeline, 50 at an advanced stage and two signed, which are paying 7.5 cents and 25 cents per resolution, but he cannot name them yet. RealNames submitted its technology to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and Teare says it has now agreed to establish a working group called Human Friendly Names. á

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