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Centraal aims to simplify Web queries

The company, whose RealNames system substitutes common names for full URLs, is making it easier to find pages from the SEC, IRS, and Patent Office sites online.

Centraal is expanding its system of simplified Web addressing to include Web queries.

The company, whose RealNames system substitutes common names for full URLs, today said it has created three namespaces in addition to its own, one each for the Internal Revenue Service, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the U.S. Patent Office.

With the advent of the new namespaces, people who download RealNames software can locate specific pages or lists of pages within those sites. For example, typing "sec msft" into the address bar would call up a list of SEC filings by Microsoft, and typing in "irs 1040" would yield the 1040 form.

Internet users without the RealNames software can now use the system through AltaVista's and LookSmart's search bars, though in this case there is an intermediate results page with a link to the RealNames results.

Centraal chief executive Keith Teare said the company had chosen three noncommercial sites to demonstrate the technology, called "Active Namespaces." More namespaces will be announced this quarter.

While the new Centraal system may appear to be a short cut to search results that users could pull up on their own with minimal effort, Teare defended the system as a method of direct navigation.

Centraal isn't the only firm looking to capitalize on the address bar. Netscape Communications this week announced a new feature for users of its Communicator browser, version 4.06 and higher, that lets them find stock quotes by typing "quote" and a stock ticker into the address bar.

Netscape's quote feature builds on other keyword search capabilities the firm has built into Communicator in recent versions of the browser. Teare predicted that Centraal's momentum would eventually spur Netscape and Microsoft to support RealNames in their browsers.

Teare described Netscape's features as a "closed editorial system," whereas any Web site could partner with Centraal to establish its own namespace. Teare noted that since Centraal does not establish namespaces for generic terms, it is unlikely to get into conflicts with Netscape over similar keywords.