Webbe Wants to Untangle the Web

SAN FRANCISCO (04/11/2000) - Internet tool attempts to organize your messages and Web searches, but it needs some help.

Oh, what a tangled Web we weave. The Internet may be called the information superhighway and all that, but isn't it really just a big traffic jam? The truth is that e-mail bogs you down and you fritter away hours searching for the perfect bit of information.

Isn't all this technology supposed to make life easier?

Enter Webbe 3.0, the newest tool that promises to help you filter all your Web information through one location. It also offers tools that allow you to communicate more easily with other Webbe users; the company claims that you can use it to set up private chats or send instant messages.

So is this just more Internet propaganda? I took Webbe for a little test drive to see.

The good news is that Webbe is simple to download and install. The whole process took me less than half an hour (and that's on a 56-kilobits-per-second modem).

Webbe looks like a universal remote. At the top is a moving screen where you can read the day's headlines, get the time, and read e-mail updates. Below is a series of buttons and icons. The first four (think Palm personal digital assistant) are icons that give one-click access to different tools. You can jump over to your e-mail and contact list, for example. You can also click on the reminder tab to send yourself little desktop sticky notes.

The rest of the buttons are labeled: Buddies, Find, Onsite, Portal, etc. Here is the real meat of Webbe. Click the Find button, and a thin toolbar appears at the bottom of the screen and allows you to do a keyword search in any of 18 different search engines. Click on the Portal button, and you'll see categorized links to more than 800 Web locations, all updated weekly. Very cool, very slick, very nice.

Communication Breakdown

But most important in this Web-driven world are the tools that help make communication easier. And, wouldn't you know it, this is where I started to have problems.

Webbe claims that it can check all your e-mail programs for you. Sounds fantastic, right? Well, setting the thing up was one of those hair-pulling experiences. For one thing, Webbe requires the incoming and outgoing mail server names for my e-mail. How to find such information? Webbe recommends calling your Internet service provider, not something that any of us relish.

What's more, even after I managed to figure it out and set up Webbe to check for messages, it didn't seem to work. I sent myself several test e-mails, none of which came through. When I received messages from other people, an alert would pop up on the screen, but I couldn't access the e-mail unless I went to my mail account.

Unfortunately, Webbe's help section didn't provide word one of advice or support, merely explanations for all of the tools it offers. Webbe does offer e-mail-based support, but that's still slow. A tech-support phone number would help.

My technical frustrations aren't the final word. I can still see where and how Webbe would be useful: in a corporate environment. If you could call the IS person to help you with the nuts and bolts, Webbe's communication tools would be a real boon to business types who need to simplify the way they communicate with coworkers. Even better, if Webbe would tinker with a few of the technical details--or even put some FAQs up on its site--I think it would be easier to use.

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