GuruNet: A Handy Information Magnet

Need a quick fact, or a simple answer to a question? Forget search engines: GuruNet brings you the information you need while you’re working with any application running on your computer.

Search engines are great, but how often have you been working on something and just wanted a quick fact without having to go to the trouble of searching for it? Or having to take time sorting through search results, hunting for the information you seek?

For ready reference types of information, GuruNet spares you from all of that. It’s a reference tool that has specific, high quality information about more than 630,000 topics. Like a search engine, you can enter queries into its search box and get a quick answer. Even better, you don’t need to put aside what you’re working on to use it. Simply highlight words in an email, in your word processor or any other application and alt-click, and GuruNet will find relevant information for you.

“We’re trying to bring multifaceted information, facts and simple answers to the point of need,” said Bob Rosenschein, founder and chairman of Atomica, the company behind GuruNet. The thin-client utility uses a library metaphor to organize information by subject, making it easy to browse, search, or simply highlight words to get relevant information. “I think of GuruNet as doing well with questions of ‘who is’ and ‘what is’,” said Rosenschein.

For example, what’s the capital of Kyrgyzstan? Bishkek. Who was Hephaestus? The Greek god of fire and metalworking. What is anatidaephobia? The fear that wherever you are, a duck is watching!

If GuruNet can’t find relevant information, it does a nifty trick: it automatically runs your search query on Google, AltaVista, Teoma and AlltheWeb, and lets you view the results in four tabbed windows.

You can rely on the answers GuruNet finds. It draws from licensed reference sources including the American Heritage Dictionary, Roget’s Thesaurus, the Columbia Reference Encyclopedia, and many others. For news and other current information, it draws from reliable online news, sports and company profile sources. GuruNet is like a virtual reference librarian with quick answers always at the ready.

How your results are presented varies based on the type of information you’re searching for. Different types of tabbed results are offered based on the subject you’re interested in.

Say you want to learn about humor writer Dave Barry. You can either search using his name, or browse through GuruNet’s categories to the “authors” section of the main “people” category.

Results for Barry include a bio and links to his books from, quotations from Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations, and images and news from Google.

Information on the SARS virus, by contrast, includes a brief description of the disease, the CDC’s SARS information page, and so on.

GuruNet is remarkably easy to use. “The whole idea is simple, rapid, very smart lookup,” said Rosenschein. “The best user interfaces are invisible.”

In addition to its powerful lookup capabilities, GuruNet has several other useful components. Its language capabilities are strong, allowing you to easily view results in 13 languages. You can set your default to any of these languages, or simply use the translation button to translate the content you’re viewing into another language. This works for both GuruNet results and for web page results, making it one of the quickest ways to translate online content I’ve seen.

The program also makes it easy to share information with others. Simply click the email button, and your email client automatically generates a message with a relevant subject header, and a link to a copy of the content you’re viewing located on Atomica’s web site, so there’s no need for the recipient to have GuruNet installed to share information.

GuruNet isn’t a replacement for search engines, or for that matter, librarians. “We’re not that comprehensive,” said Rosenschein. “We’re one form of a rapid lookup tool, so we don’t feel we’re competing with librarians. In fact, we’d like to think they’d find it a useful tool for their own jobs.”

It’s a useful tool for anyone, especially if you’re innately curious about everything. With GuruNet you’ll often find yourself saying “I didn’t know that” — where else would you so easily learn about anatidaephobia?

GuruNet is free to try for 14 days, and costs $39.95 to buy. The program still functions after the trial period, but without many of the features of the full version.

GuruNet Free Download

  • Runs on PC’s with Windows 98, ME, NT4, 2000 or XP
  • Requires Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 (or newer) to be installed; you don’t have to actually browse with it
  • On Windows NT4, 2000 or XP, you must have permission to install software on your computer
  • GuruNet does not support Windows 95
  • Not yet available for Macintosh or Linux

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