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Compass automates content filtering

There's no getting around keywords, but Netscape's Compass Server 3.0 software will automatically alert users when it discovers Web pages of interest.

Netscape Communications (NSCP) is preparing to tackle an elusive goal--automatic filtering of online content--with a new server it plans to introduce on July 14.

Compass Server 3.0 is an updated version of Netscape's Catalogue Server, a basic search engine that allows users to manually scour Web sites for information, according to sources. Using technology licensed from GrapeVine, the new server will automatically alert users through email, Netcaster channel, or personal Web page when it discovers Web pages containing selected keywords or concepts.

A separate add-on to Compass, known as GrapeVine for Netscape Compass Server, takes automatic information filtering a step further by classifying information found on Web sites or newsgroups into elaborate data "taxonomies," said Jeffrey Rinvelt, product manager at GrapeVine. The taxonomies resemble the way Yahoo structures Web data into categories and subcategories.

Information related to a Ford Explorer, for example, might be classified within "sport utility vehicles," which would be found within "automobiles."

Products like Compass Server and the GrapeVine are in part symptoms of the crush of information on the Net that has simultaneously empowered and overwhelmed users. Push technologies such as PointCast and Netscaster are also meant to ease the burden of manually checking Web sites, though they generally have poor filters for screening out irrelevant data.

While GrapeVine and Compass may reduce some of the strain of tracking Net information, they still rely on keywords. A user interested in banks as financial institutions, for example, may also end up receiving information about river banks, Rinvelt admitted.

In addition to GrapeVine, Compass Server includes Verity's Search 97 search engine and a Netscape-developed "spider" that indexes Web sites and newsgroups. The server and GrapeVine add-on are expected to be available for downloading from the Net on July 14.

A Netscape spokeswoman declined to comment on the announcement.