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Web Compass 2.0 
Software Review by Roger Nedel

Quarterdeck logoBecause the Web lacks overall organization, and information on the Web is constantly growing and changing, it can be difficult and time consuming to find the information you need, and harder still to keep it current.
The Web is not completely without resources for finding information, however. There are "search resources" (like Yahoo and AltaVista) to help you locate documents. These search resources (large databases) contain catalogs of Web documents, organized by subject, title and location. Unfortunately, search resources suffer from some problems: 
 
 
  • No two search resources have the same database; therefore, you can get different results searching for the same topic using different resources.

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  • No two search resources work the same way. Though they essentially do the same thing, their user interfaces differ greatly. Some support advanced searching techniques; others support simple searches only.

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  • Despite your best efforts, most searches turn up more irrelevant information than useful Web documents.
WebCompass finds the Web documents that contain the topics you are searching for, just as search resources do, but it goes well beyond their capabilities. WebCompass searches multiple search resources simultaneously, automatically generates summaries and keywords for each document it finds that matches your search criteria, then organizes the retrieved documents into your own personal database. WebCompass can also automatically maintain and update this database. 

 With that out of the way, I’ll talk a bit about installation and use of WebCompass. After tearing open the cellophane, I began by reading the introduction. This section took me 6 minutes to read. It contained a concise, yet informative description of WebCompass’ capabilities. I give this section a grade of A. 

 I then installed the program onto my hard drive. The startup program automatically ran when I closed my CD-ROM. It did allow me to alter the installation directory to suit my preferences, however no custom installation options were offered. I either had to perform the default installation or no installation at all. During the installation, WebCompass told me that it couldn’t find Data Access Objects (DAO). DAO are needed for WebCompass to work. I’m pretty sure that I should already have DAO loaded on my system since I run Microsoft Access. I selected the option telling WebCompass to install DAO anyway (I have since run MS Access without adverse results). WebCompass then asked me if I wanted to reboot at this time or to wait until later.. I chose to reboot. This completed the relatively painless installation process. I grade it B to B-. 

 The next step was to learn how to use WebCompass. The documentation includes three pertinent means of learning WebCompass: 

     
  • Quick Start (written documentation) - 25 pages. 
  • Advanced Features (written documentation) - 30 pages. 
  • Tutorial (online help file) - approximately 10-15 help pages.
The quick start was a simple way to try out WebCompass' basic features. It is written in a tutorial format, and was quite useful in getting the basics down. The advanced features section of the manual is simply reference material guided toward making you a "power user" of WebCompass. Finally, the online tutorial seemed to be a bit shallow and only marginally adequate. I grade the documentation B for the manual and C- for the online tutorial. 

 To give you a feel for how WebCompass works, I’ll recount my quick start session (which, by the way, took a half an hour to complete). 

 I connected to my internet service provider using my normal dialer. I then ran the "new topic wizard." It prompted me (in a logical and easy to understand format) for all the information needed to search for a new topic (I decided to search for woodworking). Unexpectedly (but nice), WebCompass already had a search profile defined for woodworking. It asked if I wanted to base my topic on this already defined profile, or if I wanted to create a whole new profile from scratch. 

I chose the former, and accepted their default keywords (carpentry, wood working, and woodworking). The wizard allowed me to choose from a list of internet search profiles including General, Health, International, Investment, Media, neatness, Sports, and Technical. 

Finally, the wizard allowed me to specify intervals at which WebCompass would update my woodworking database. These included setting when the program should automatically "re-search" the internet search engines (Yahoo, Excite, AltaVista, etc.) for new web pages on this subject. It also allowed me to specify intervals when it should "re-summarize" each of the web pages it found into a concise summary (a time consuming, but worthwhile task). I chose to disable both of these options for this particular topic. I hit the finish button, and WebCompass did it’s thing. 

 First, it started searching each of the Internet search engines (for example, Yahoo, Excite, Infoseek, etc) for web pages that contained my topic’s keywords (carpentry, wood working, woodworking). This took approximately 3-4 minutes. Once this initial search was complete, WebCompass started summarizing each of the sites it had just found during the initial search. This consisted of logging on to each web site found, and then summarizing the data contained at that site. It found 419 sites that it considered appropriate for my keywords. 

With one click of the mouse, I could review each of these sites without having to "surf the web", and more importantly, without having to wait for each web page to load.. The information provided was in a text format including 

  • The title of the web page. 
  • The web pages URL. 
  • A text summary of the web page. 
  • Keywords registered by this web page.
Additionally, each site was rated (on a scale of 1 to 100) based upon how relevant WebCompass felt the site was. WebCompass rates its relevance factor on how you express interest in a document. If you click on a document, it takes that as an indication that the document is relevant to the topic. The relevance of a document is figured each time the topic is displayed. 

I decided to single click on each site found, choosing sites with the highest relevance factor first. The text summary for the appropriate page appeared immediately (without having to wait for my modem to download the page). I could use the text to determine whether or not the site was truly relevant. If it was relevant, I'd simply double-click. WebCompass automatically opened my Internet Explorer and loaded the web page that I was reviewing. 

 WebCompass requires the following: 

  • CD-ROM (You can obtain floppy disks by calling an 800 number. The disks are free, but shipping is $9.95).

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  • 486 PC or higher 
  • 8 MB Ram (minimum) and 16 MB (recommended) - Windows 95 or Windows NT 3.51 or higher.

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  • 6 MB hard disk space (additional space will be needed as your WebCompass database grows.)

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  • A 32-bit web browser (Netscape 3.0, Internet Explorer 3.0 for Win95 or 1.5 for NT.)

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  • Microsoft 32-bit Winsock for Windows 95 or NT (normally installed by Windows.)

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  • A connection to the Internet via dial-up (modem and SLIP/PPP account) or Local Area Network, or a connection to an intranet.

  • Overall, I highly recommend WebCompass to those of you who want to utilize the Internet to find specific information without having to spend hours "surfing." For those who simply want to sit at their computers, manually bouncing from one website to another (because the act of surfing is what you enjoy), then this program is not for you.