Playing the role of Internet cartographer, a young company will bring to market next month software that enables visitors to navigate through Web sites with a process based on visual maps.
Antarcti.ca Systems Inc., in Vancouver, British Columbia, is led by CEO Tim Bray, who is an XML and search engine pioneer. It hopes to have its technology incorporated into every Web site on the Internet as an alternative to today's search engines, Bray said.
"It's complementary to traditional search engines; we're not going to replace them," he said. "The goal is to give users both options through a button on a site's home page."
Users can choose whether they want a text-based search engine or to take the mapping route.
The technology, dubbed Visual Net, works much like a paper-based map in that users click on a region, such as Literature, and that leads them to a map containing more options within the category. From there, a user might drill into Russian Literature, then eventually to a specific author, such as Leo Tolstoy, then deeper into a specific work, such as Anna Karenina.
Visual Net is available via an ASP (application service provider) model.
Although the traditional search engine is geared toward people who are looking for a specific item or piece of information, Antarcti.ca's software is most useful for Web visitors that do not know exactly what they are looking for, according to Darcy Fowkes, an Internet infrastructure analyst at Aberdeen Group in Boston.
"One of the things we typically use the Internet for is finding things when we already know what we are after," she said. "This isn't about just finding where things are, it's more about being able to more easily move around the Web and get at information we might know is out there."
Antarti.ca's graphical navigation model will be a useful complement to earlier search and navigation tools and much more intuitive for the masses, according to Peter O'Kelly, a senior consultant/analyst at Seybold Group, a consultancy in Boston.
Antarcti.ca is not entirely alone in the space. Vios, in Cary, North Carolina, for instance, produces what it refers to as a visual 3D interface for the Internet. Urban Pixel, in San Francisco, offers software for making the Web easier to navigate. And Boston-based WebMap Technologies markets a product for visual representation and interaction with the Internet.
Although each of the solutions is somewhat different, Antarcti.ca also will go up against specialized tools for a variety of uses, O'Kelly said.
"It's about how to make the wild, wild West more navigable," Aberdeen's Fowkes said. "The Internet is a mass of goods and information that still hasn't realized its viable commercial opportunity."