So-called intelligent agents first attracted attention in the mid-1990s but were never widely adopted. Agents can be described as self-learning software robots that help collect information online. As retail companies move more of their operations to the Web, some industry observers believe that e-commerce could put agents back in the spotlight.
Amsterdam-based Tryllian hopes consumers and businesses alike will help build Java-based agents that can exchange Web addresses in a system the company calls Gossip, Tryllian founder and president Christine Karman said.
Gossip agents are software written in the latest 1.3 version of Sun's Java software, which Sun released this week. Tryllian picked Java because it's "fairly easy to create mobility for agents," Karman said.
The company needs a relatively new and still rare version of Java because of security improvements and the newer "Swing" user interface improvements. Although Java graphics performance plunged when Sun introduced Java 2 in December 1998, the new 1.3 version of Java 2 has fixed many of those problems, Karman said.
Tryllian has far more tricks up its sleeve aside from its early plans with Gossip, Karman said. Dutch phone company KPN Telecom is using agents to troubleshoot remote networking equipment, and SmartHaven is using agents to help customers shop for low-priced goods.
Ultimately, Tryllian's business will depend on licensing its technology for these and many other types of business uses. The company also plans to help businesses build and develop new uses for the technology, Karman said. For example, a printer company might send agents out to an afflicted computer to diagnose what's wrong with the hardware.
Hewlett-Packard has created its own agent-like software called E-speak. That software is designed to scour the Internet for services or products based on certain priorities, such as cost or quality.
With Gossip, people tell an agent what information they're looking for and then send the agent out to an Internet "meeting area." The agent swaps Web addresses with other agents and brings back sites that--if all goes as planned--will be more useful than the large number of links search engines find at one time.
The system is basically a way for people to exchange Internet addresses they find useful, Karman said. A person can put addresses into the agent; the more a person puts in, the more trading the agent will do with other agents.
Karman acknowledges the system depends on what people put into it. Currently, there are about 2,000 agents that mingle in the Gossip meeting areas. To work well, about 100,000 will be needed, Karman said.
Tryllian has 60 employees. Its developers are based in Amsterdam, but its sales and marketing will be based in the United States, where there is a larger group of people willing to try out new technology, Karman said.