Netscape's Smart Browsing Matures

Netscape has been building up its Internet Keywords system since it was implemented last July as part of its Smart Browsing enhancements, and it has turned into an impressive resource that can make locating web sites much easier.

The idea of Internet Keywords is simple. Users should be able to enter a word or words into the web location box of their browser and be taken to a relevant site, regardless of whether they entered a proper web address. So under the system, a user can enter "united airlines" where they'd ordinarily enter a web address and be taken straight to the United Airlines web site, rather than having to enter

When Netscape launched its system, users were either taken directly to a relevant web site or given matching results from the Netscape Search search engine. Occasionally, they might also have been dumped into one of the Netscape site's channels, such as "autos" linking to a page within Netcenter.

Now, the keywords system is quite likely to land you on an intermediary page, where Netscape displays a variety of options that seem suited to your query.

"We quickly learned that there isn't any one thing that you can send people to, especially in terms of the generic categories," Ken Hickman, the senior product manager at Netscape who oversees Smart Browsing. "So, we introduced this intermediate page, that allows us to point at multiple answers in respect to what you type in."

The results are easy to understand and helpful -- sometimes even better than what the major search engines dish up. For instance, imagine a search for "united." It could mean United Airlines -- but it could also mean United Artists. The intermediary page solves the problem. It lists several major companies that all include the word United in their names. Likewise, the page lists common domains that have the word in them.

Another good example is a search for "airlines." Here, you're shown a link to a matching category from the Netscape site relating to airlines. Netscape also offers to take you to its online booking area -- as an option, it can be appreciated. If it had been forced upon you, it might have been resented.

Using Internet Keywords is easy. Just enter a word or words into the location box and hit Enter. Netscape will then try to resolve your term in one of several ways.

First, it will check to see if the word or words have been linked directly to a web site. This is commonly the case for trademarks, brand names, company names or other common words where Netscape feels comfortable that it knows what most users want. Entering "white house" is a perfect example. You're taken directly to the US White House site.

If there are no defined keywords, then you may be taken to an intermediary page. This will happen if you search for a term that might match several trademarks, such as the "united" example above. This will also happen in response to many generic terms, such as "music" and "movies."

If the term matches no intermediary pages, then Netscape will scan to see if there are any domain names that seem to match your words. If so, you'd be taken directly to a web site.

Finally, if all the above attempts fail, Netscape will forward your request to its Excite-powered Netscape Search service, where you'll be shown web pages that match your topic.

Netscape says it intends to further add to the system. Editors are constantly watching query logs and creating pages in response to popular searches. For instance, they have already made up a page in response to a search for "melissa virus," Hickman said.

In the next few months, more content on these pages will begin to come from the Netscape Open Directory. Currently, most of the directory categories listed come from the Excite directory, which has been rebranded for Netscape's use.

That also makes being listed in the Open Directory much more important. As the system grows in popularity, it can become an important source of new traffic. If you still haven't submitted to the Open Directory, get started soon.

Netscape also says it may either enhance the Open Directory submission process to help further develop the Internet Keywords system, or it may launch a submission mechanism just for the system's needs. This is because it would like to solicit greater guidance from site owners on the best place to link within their sites, in relation to trademarked terms.

One welcome twist to the Internet Keywords system is that you will get different results if you have set your language to French, German or Japanese. For instance, searching for "yahoo" with a browser set to French would take you to Yahoo France, not Yahoo in the US. More of this will be a well received by those outside the US who are looking for local content.

Anyone can try this. Just go to the Preferences menu option, then open Navigator and click on Languages. Click on Add to select an additional language, then use the arrow keys to move your choice to the top, so it's the default language.

Netscape also has a number of "keyverbs" that work within the Internet Keywords system. For instance, use the word "quote" followed by a company symbol, and you'll get a current stock quote. For instance, "quote aol" would bring back the AOL stock price. You can also use the word "help" followed by a topic to get help about Netscape's products and services.

Ordinarily, there's no need to use the "go" keyverb, which is an explicit command for the browser to do an Internet Keywords search. But if you go through a proxy server, a single word query will probably fail, because the browser will try to find a local server. In these cases, start your query with "go."

Netscape has also augmented the Alexa-provided information that's available when clicking on the What's Related button, which is next to the Location box. What's Related displays links that seem similar to the page you are viewing, along with helpful information about the site. Additionally, when at some major company sites, you will also see relatively new options allow you to retrieve a stock quote or news items.

A link at the bottom of the What's Related list will also take you to a web page version of the What's Related information presented, which is useful in case you want to print or save the information for later reference.

Internet Keywords and What's Related are built into Netscape Communicator 4 and 4.5. Those running Internet Explorer 4 can also download a "tune-up" to add Netscape's Internet Keywords to the Microsoft browser.

IE4 users might also find they've been accidentally converted to using Internet Keywords without realizing it. When you install Netscape Communicator, it will ask if you want to "Use Netscape Netcenter to search the Web." If you say yes, then any Internet Explorer installation will also be changed to use Netscape's Internet Keywords. The install program does warn that this will happen, but this may be overlooked by some.

Don't choose this option if you want Explorer to stay as it is. Netscape will still configure itself to use Internet Keywords (and on the off chance it doesn't, then go to Preferences, choose Navigator, then Smart Browsing, then click on Enable Internet Keywords).

If Explorer has already been changed on your system, you'll need to install the Tweak UI utility to get back to normal. Click on the General tab, then change the Internet Explorer search engine option from Custom to the search engine of your choice.

Netscape Communicator 4.5 Home Page

Download the latest version, which has the Smart Browsing features described above.

About Internet Keywords

More information about Internet Keywords, including the ability to use an online form to search for terms using the system. There's a helpful FAQ page, plus links to the IE4 tune-up mentioned above.

Netscape Integrates Directory
The Search Engine Report, Feb. 2, 1999

More about the Netscape Open Directory.

NewHoo: Yahoo Built By The Masses
The Search Engine Update, June 22, 1998

Includes tips on submitting to the Netscape Open Directory.

Smart Browsers Ease Searching
The Search Engine Report, July 1, 1998

Learn more about how Autosearch and other search assistance features work in older versions of Internet Explorer.

Alexa: Searching Serendipity And More
The Search Engine Report, Jan. 9, 1998

More about information provided by the Alexa service.