Break down the Internet to its most simple definition, and you might settle on calling it an information-retriever: You ask questions; it coughs up answers.

Go to a Web page, and you’ll likely find hyperlinks embedded in the text, providing users with access to more information. But what if you’re reading a story on operating systems that mentions UNIX but doesn’t include a hyperlink for it?

For the information hungry, Flyswat may help bridge the gap between the data they want and the resources a Web site provides.

As a small application that sits on your browser, Flyswat inserts hyperlinks under words it recognizes, allowing quick access to related information. Users can also find information on an unhighlighted term by pressing [Alt] and clicking on the word.

“We call it an information delivery service,” said Flyswat CEO John Rodkin. “It’s not really like a search engine, because a search engine implies that you go to a search place, you type in search inquiries, and you hunt for information. We deliver it right to the page.”

According to the company, Flyswat has access to 6,500 Web sites and, by Rodkin’s estimate, several million pages. Here’s a closer look at Flyswat and how it can help you find more information.

What it looks like
I downloaded my copy of Flyswat from Red Herring, which took less than 30 seconds on a 56K modem over a regular phone line. Since I downloaded, the Red Herring logo, as well as the Flyswat tools and logo, now sit on my browser’s address bar to the right of the URL field:

Figure A

How it works
There’s a toggle switch on the address bar that allows you to turn Flyswat on and off. You can also adjust Flyswat’s settings by clicking on the question mark inside the circle.

One feature I like is the option of having Flyswat underline only the first occurrence of a word it recognizes. You can also set Flyswat to “hover” so that the underlines appear only if your pointer is above a recognized term.

Flyswat links, called “Flycons” are underlined in a yellowish green. For example, last week’s TechRepublic article on faxing documents from Windows 2000 looks like this with Flyswat enabled:

Figure B

Clicking once on MCSE will bring up a menu of links to information about the term, as shown below. (In my case, Red Herring is also featured in the top of the window because I downloaded it from their site.)

Figure C

If you want the definition for an MCSE, just click once on Definition. Flyswat will send you to, providing you with this description:

Figure D

How it works in other applications
Flyswat also works with Word documents, e-mail clients, and other desktop applications. For instance, suppose someone sent you an e-mail that made reference to a graphic user interface (GUI). If you were unfamiliar with the term, you could press the [Alt] key and click on the word to bring up a menu like this:

Figure E

Links in context
Andrew Neff, the company’s vice president of marketing and business development, said that on the Web, Flyswat tries to choose links that are relevant to the page you’re reading. For example, if you were reading a story about the Chicago Bulls, and Chicago was a Flycon link, you would be more likely to find links to Michael Jordan instead of to Web sites for travel companies, Neff said.

When I went surfing to test Neff’s point, Flyswat worked just as he said about nine times out of 10. But there were several instances when the links to the word that Flyswat had underlined weren’t in context.

For instance, when I found the word “Hilton” on a Feb. 16 story that carried on its home page, it failed to include the next word, “Head.” Instead of getting links to the South Carolina resort, I received links to Hilton hotels.

Where to get it
Users can download Flyswat from the Flyswat home page or from one of the company’s six distribution partners: MySimon, Red Herring, Raging Bull, Consumer and Audio, an Internet desktop, also carries the Flyswat as a feature. Currently, Flyswat can be used only with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0 or higher.

What’s next
Rodkin envisions Flyswat being used on both company intranets and extranets. For example, a business development manager at an e-commerce company placed on a project dealing with TechRepublic could click on TechRepublic in a document and call up any relevant information that’s been placed in the company’s database.

Flyswat has moved quickly to both roll out new versions of the product and gain new distribution partners. The first version of Flyswat was unveiled in October, and Version 2.0 was released earlier this month.

Rodkin anticipates that a third version, which will include more features, will be released in March. And though he wouldn’t be specific, Neff said that other distribution partners would be announced soon.
Like Flyswat, GuruNet is a downloadable application that allows you to pick a word as a starting point to other Web pages and other information. After you download the application, a GuruNet icon will appear in the status area at the bottom of your screen. To use GuruNet, press the [Alt] key and click on a word in any Windows program. A small window will appear with a definition and, if available, a list of links, news, and stock information. GuruNet was picked as one of the Best of 1999 by PC Magazine.Have you put either of these applications on your computer? Have they helped you find information more quickly? Which do you prefer? Post a comment or send us an e-mail and let us know.