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Guiding tools for agents

Firefly is licensing its agent-based technology to other Web publishers as a first step to creating a network of Firefly-enabled sites.

Agents Incorporated, the parent of the popular Firefly Web site, is licensing its agent-based technology to other Web publishers as a first step to creating a network of Firefly-enabled sites.

The Firefly technology, which customizes content based on information requested of individual users, will be used on four other sites, with additional ones expected soon: Reuters NewMedia, Rolling Stone magazine, Yahoo, and ZDNet.

"We're looking to build a partnership with the best brands on the Web, those people who feel they have a strong relationship with their customers," said Nick Grouf, Agents president. He said future partners will include firms in the travel, restaurant, hotel, financial services, television, and Yellow Pages directory industries.

The company, whose technology originated at the MIT Media Lab, also will change its name to Firefly Network.

Users will be able to register once with a Firefly-enabled site and have that information shared with others in the Firefly Network, increasing the number of registered users and opening new opportunity for targeted ads.

By year's end, Firefly will deliver its technology in several packages:
--A registration tool to recognize when a visitor to a Web site is registered at another Firefly Network site.
--A tool that customizes content.
--A tool that lets visitors chat and send email to other Firefly registrants.
--An interface that lets sites target advertising based on an individual's interests.

"Currently, ads are being served up in a broadcast fashion. With an agent, a tremendous amount of information has been collected so ads can be targeted," Grouf said. That would help advertisers deliver relevant ads to people most likely to be interested, which in turn would let Web sites charge higher ad rates.

Firefly will maintain strict privacy policies, Grouf said, which include not collecting name or address from users.

Firefly's own site, which delivers individualized content on music and movies, was always intended to demonstrate the technology so that the software tools could be marketed to other sites, he said.

Grouf said Firefly technology also will be relevant for other kinds of networks (telephone, kiosks, interactive TV) including corporate intranets, where it could be used for discussions of far-flung workers with similar jobs.

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