Back when the Web was wilderness, it made sense that the main tool for pathfinding was a browser’s “Back” button. Prudence dictated that you be able to retrace your steps, like Hansel and Gretel following a trail of bread crumbs. Now that the digital frontier resembles parkland more than wilderness, some Web wanderers are rethinking that navigational imperative.
Among them is entrepreneur Philip Copeland. While sailing off the coast of his native Australia, Copeland had an epiphany. He was using GPS technology to guide his way. And he recalls: “I wondered: Why can’t the Web be this easy to navigate, with pointers leading you from one way-station to the next?” Copeland rounded up venture financing and started Spot On, in San Mateo, Calif. His mission: create a new way to move around the Net.
The Spot On recording tool lets users assemble a sequenced list of site addresses, along with annotations, to create a Web “tour” that can be shared with others who use the Spot On reader software. Basic versions of recorder and reader are free; Spot On will derive revenue by making enhanced versions available for a fee and by working with companies to create tours of their proprietary sites.
Because the tours are sequenced in advance, the browser software always knows what site the user will be visiting next. While the user is reading one page, the browser is fetching the next page into a memory cache. Clicking the “Next” button brings up the new site with minimal delay-a strong incentive for users not to jump off and claw their way alone through the cyber thickets.
It’s a “really attractive tool,” says network services director Darcy Fowkes of Aberdeen Research in Palo Alto, Calif. Fowkes sees Spot On as particularly useful for online publications that want to guide readers through their pages with less chance of them hopping off into the Web at large.