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Internet

Who said you can't learn from TV?

Vayu Web, an Internet start-up, thinks that Web sites could learn a lesson or two from the boob tube.

Web sites could learn a lesson or two from the boob tube these days.

That's the message from Vayu Web, a company that today introduced at Internet World a product that helps designers transform their Web sites into something more like television.

The company's Vayu Web 500 is a set of server Java and JavaScript programs and design tools that allow Web masters to "automate" or control how and when Web pages appear on their sites. Instead of presenting a user with a traditional home page, the Vayu Web product displays something more like a slide show: a series of sequenced Web pages that change at designated intervals. These sites leave out the normal browser steering controls--navigation buttons and hyperlinks.

For many users the loss of control is likely to be maddening, but Vayu Web thinks that its method of putting Web sites on autopilot will appeal to Net newbies, and, of course, to Net advertisers.

"We feel there aren't a lot of companies that are successfully selling on the Web," said Andy Jurkevics, chief technology officer of Vayu Web. "We think that's a problem. Advertisers don't like the Web as medium because they can't capture the user's attention. Users find the Web unfriendly because it's chaotic."

Jurkevics said the company is aiming to borrow elements of television or "kiosk" broadcasting to make users and advertisers feel more comfortable with visiting Web sites. "The idea is to go back to a paradigm that the user is more familiar with," Jurkevics said. "We're not replacing conventional Web sites though."

Some other companies are also taking their cue from television, but with the intent of eliminating the need to "visit" Web sites altogether. PointCast, Microsoft, and Netscape Communications are all focusing on "push" broadcasting that automatically zaps sports scores and news headlines to a user's desktop at regular intervals. That means that users get the information they want without having to surf around for it.

Vayu Web, however, is aiming its tools at developers of conventional Web sites who want to incorporate some elements of broadcasting into their presentation. But some analysts expect that users will object to having their browsers turned into boob tubes, even for a few minutes.

"There's definitely utility in sites being able to give guided tours," said Adam Schoenfeld, vice president at Jupiter Communications. "The slide show effect offers value there. On the other hand, users come to expect the ability to direct their own Web experience. I suspect that users would balk at having this kind of technology foisted upon them."

Schoenfeld believes that advertisers may relish the chance to take control of a user's viewing experience, but that the technology could back fire. "The only danger is that you can turn off a user if you change a page they want to continue reading or don't give them the chance to click on hyperlinks," he explained.

Others are deeply skeptical about the effectiveness of traditional broadcasting and advertising methods in an interactive medium like the Net.

"A lot of the traditional media companies are working very hard to make sure traditional media methods live and maybe dominate the Net," said Jerry Michalski, managing editor at Release 1.0. "I'm hoping that will all die down soon."

Vayu Web 500, which only works with Windows browsers for now, costs $5,995 for a single Web site. For six Web sites, it costs $29,995.