There's a growing trend in cyberspace: software that lets users filter the information that Web search engines dig up.
Search engine companies and directories are looking for ways to simplify the search process for users, many of whom complain that they get bombarded with too much information and find it necessary to narrow down on the subject they want. While a typical AltaVista search returns every match, Net Shepherd's content-filtering focuses on "content that is safe and useful for families," according to AltaVista Internet Software chief executive Ilene Lang.
As part of the deal, AltaVista and Net Shepherd plan to offer filtered searches to third-party content partners. For example, a family-oriented service may want a "family safe" search site, or a sports or financial service may want to list only the sites that are related to those topics.
While some consumers like the filters, others worry that it may limit them from getting a wide range of information. Most search engines and directories will offer both options.
As reported last week, Inference Corporation is extending its Inference Find search tool to corporate intranets. The Internet version is already offered on the company's home page for free; the intranet version starts at $5,995.
America Online also offers a directory called "NetFind," whose features include a search for "kids only."
Last month, a company called Mamma Systems said it was offering a new metasearch tool that it contends will become the "weapon of choice" for finding information on the Net. It will query as many as seven search engines simultaneously, executives said.