Startup looks to reinvent surfing the Web

Aimed at more experienced users, SpotOn could make surfing the Web more elegant by allowing users to skim through a series of links that have been selected in advance and stored in the browser's cache memory, company officials said.

"When you think about it, the browser hasn't changed much since it was invented 10 years ago, and it really isn't the most efficient way to navigate the Web," Philip Copeland, SpotOn's founder and chief executive officer, said.

SpotOn will launch next week in Australia.

SpotOn lets users select a series of links and store them in the program's "Web Player" feature, which sits on the left side of a user's PC screen and somewhat resembles RealNetworks Inc.'s RealPlayer. Hitting the Web Player's Next button advances the user to the next Web site in a sequence.

SpotOn could prove particularly useful for navigating through the long lists of links that appear in newsgroups or Web search results, Copeland said. Traditional browsers require a user to flip back and forth using the Back button to access each new link. With SpotOn, even if a user goes off on a surfing tangent, the Next button will always return them to the next link in the sequence, he said.

The program also lets users annotate Web links as they save them in the Web Player, as well as e-mail a tour of Web sites to a friend, customer or employee. Besides targeting consumers, SpotOn hopes its software will be popular with online stores, content providers and other businesses that want to compile "Web Tours" for customers or employees.

SpotOn is a 600K-byte download, and is due to be available today for Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer Web browser at http://www.spoton.com/. Future versions will support other browsers, the company said. SpotOn also offers a "Lite" version, which allows any user with a Java-enabled Web browser to take a Web Tour without downloading the full version of SpotOn, Copeland said.

The San Bruno, California-based company faces several challenges, not the least of which is convincing habitual Web surfers to try out something different. SpotOn adds a new level of complexity to Web surfing at a time when PCs are being simplified to attract more users, although Copeland said his product should be a slam-dunk for relatively experienced users.

In addition, SpotOn occupies about two inches of valuable real estate down the left side of a user's computer screen. Copeland admitted that the software works best with a full-size screen, but maintained that the trade-off in space is a small one for the added convenience SpotOn can provide.

While the product is free for consumers, SpotOn hopes to make money by licensing its software for use by large corporations and selling targeted advertising space on the software's user interface. The company also plans to charge a "nominal fee" for a future version of the product that will have more features, Copeland said.

SpotOn was founded by Copeland, a native of Australia, last year. He got the idea for SpotOn while sailing, after using a GPS (global positioning system) that creates a route by providing coordinates for a series of "waypoints," he said.

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