Lycos improves Finance site navigation

Lycos Inc. is hoping that a redesign of its Finance site combined with using a new search and aggregation technology will help draw casual traders and new users.

Beginning this week, Lycos Finance is using iPhrase's One Step to help users find information on the site more quickly and with less navigation. One Step is natural-language query technology that can take a question and bring the user directly to the page that contains the answer - eliminating the need to wade through a list of search results. It can also aggregate data onto a single page for questions such as, "What is the price-to-earnings ratio of Gillette and General Electric?"

"You can type in a question, and the system will navigate the menus for you," says Stan Hjartberg, executive producer of Lycos Finance. "If you can aggregate information and present it in an orderly fashion, you're ahead of the game."

The new search features, accessible from just about every page on the Lycos site, will help new users feel more comfortable. This is important when trying to draw customers away from the competition. "This gets rid of the barrier of a user saying, 'I use site X and know where everything is, so I am comfortable,'" Hjartberg says. Instead of having to learn the Lycos menus right off the bat, a user can instead enter a question to find information.

Lycos worked with iPhrase over a six-week period to integrate the One Step technology into the Lycos front- and back-end. One Step crawls and indexes static pages like a regular search engine would; then, programmers add schemas for retrieving dynamic information such as stock quotes. Stock data are pulled from a central feed provided to Lycos by a third party. The core engine and index are all housed within the Lycos server farm.

Once a query request is processed, iPhrase returns the results in XML format to allow users to format the data the way they would like. "By passing back the content with XML we also pass back the structure and not just Web rendering, so the data can be structured into another application," says Tony Frazier, vice president of product management at Cambridge, Mass.-based iPhrase.

Hjartberg is pleasantly surprised about how well the technology has worked in testing, but says users should not expect an About.com type of system. "This is a way to get discrete pieces of stock information without having to navigate menus or aggregate some data," he says. "We want to reduce user frustration as much as possible."

Currently, the iPhrase search areas covers most static information and the fundamental financial information on the Lycos Finance site. In the future, Hjartberg would like to see the technology extend into the Raging Bull message board area.

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