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Firefly agents take wing

Firefly Network will incorporate agent technology from recently acquired NetAngels into its client-server platform for content filtering.

Firefly Network, which operates a popular music and movies Web site, will incorporate agent technology from recently acquired NetAngels into Firefly's client-server platform for collaborative agents and content filtering.

Firefly said today that it has acquired San Francisco-based NetAngels for an estimated $2 million but is not taking on its staff or founder Mark Goldstein.

"We were interested in technology element, not the people," Saul Klein, Firefly's vice president of marketing, told CNET. "They had really been focusing on the desktop, not the server side." That made NetAngels' agent technology a good complement to Firefly's server technology.

"We had been saying we are going to be moving onto the desktop," Klein noted. "For us, it was a time-to-market issue. We can get our client-server platform to market that much quicker."

Firefly will retain NetAngels' relationship with The Polished Group, a Polish software firm that created NetAngels' technology.

Although Firefly's Web site had focused on music and movies, the company announced in August that it would license its enabling technology for content and services companies to add agent-based community and collaborative elements to their offerings.

Firefly registrants get a Firefly Passport, used to collect user preferences anonymously, recommend interesting content, and send appropriate advertising. Firefly has stringent privacy policies that Klein said will be incorporated into its enabling technology.

Eventually, a single "passport" will aggregate individual preferences from all the sites that its technology.

"Last year it was important for us to showcase the application of this technology," Klein said. More than 30 companies are now using early versions of Firefly's server tools.

On February 10, FireFly expects to announce names of email companies that will use its collaborative tools. The company also will unveil its platform and licensed partners in March.

With NetAngels' technology, users won't have to use Web browsers to experience Firefly's collaborative technology.

"When you break free of the browser, companies like PointCast and Freeloader can take advantage of our API to do true community applications," Klein said. "This is designed to add value to existing technology as opposed to trying to compete against them."

Firefly's early partners include Yahoo, which has used Firefly's tools for personalized Web site recommendations, Reuters New Media, and computer publisher Ziff Davis Publishing.

In addition, several other Web vendors have said they will integrate their offerings with Firefly, including ad server company NetGravity, Web traffic measurement firm Internet Profiles, and Accrue.