GuruNet Makes You An Instant Expert

Tuesday, July 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GuruNet works with any Windows application, including web browsers.

When you spend as much time as I do looking for things to talk about, you get a little jaded. I see a lot of "cool tools", but rarely do they live up to the hype or justify longer than a temporary installation. Today, however, I stumbled on a utility that will stay on my PC for a while. It's called GuruNet.

GuruNet is a simple but powerful utility that will fully inform you about a word or phrase in any Windows program. You simply highlight it, hold down the Alt key, and click your mouse. Up pops a window with different information depending on whether the target is a word, address, title, proper name, geographical location, acronym, etc. Furthermore, GuruNet understands the context of a word, not just the word itself, so the results are extremely relevant.

You must be connected to the Web to use GuruNet because the information comes from lightning fast servers connected to the Internet where GuruNet stores all the electronic dictionaries, encyclopedias, news articles, and so forth necessary to answer your queries.

Sounds great, but are we talking about a "spell checker"? Well, you can certainly use GuruNet to check spelling, but that's just the beginning. For example, click on the word "Ford" and if it's before the word "Motor", GuruNet will give you a basic description of the Ford Motor Company and its business, plus the current stock price, a chart showing share-price performance over time, news about the company, and more. Click on "Ford" when it follows "Henry" and GuruNet retrieves a biographical profile from the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. Translations of words are also available, currently in up to eight languages.

Click on the name of a place, and GuruNet gets even more interesting. Up pops geographic data, historical information, and a map. You can even get directions between two addresses. Click on the name of an NFL running back, and GuruNet supplies stats and career highlights from its sports database. Click on "books", and you'll be taken to one of the major online bookstores to see what books are available on the topic.

GuruNet isn't a search engine per se, but it has links to all of the major search engines. It also provides links to sites that other people have recommended as good sources of information on a topic. You can also add you own suggestions.

To use GuruNet, all you have to do is download a 700 KB (kilobyte) program and install it on a Windows (95, 98, NT, or 2000) PC. When the GuruNet icon appears in the Windows system tray, you're all set.

If you're familiar with Microsoft Bookshelf, you're probably thinking GuruNet is similar. You're right, which makes it ironic that Microsoft didn't think of it first! Bookshelf, however, requires you to have a special CD-ROM in your PC. GuruNet accesses its resources over the Web, so both the software and its feature set can be updated instantly.

GuruNet is a free download, although it asks for a small amount of demographic information during the installation (e-mail address, age, and gender). But fret not, because you can respond "Prefer Not To Answer" and still install the software. If you do supply the information, you can check a box to instruct GuruNet not to share the information with third parties.

GuruNet is definitely a "killer app", and what's remarkable is the guy who wrote it didn't realize what he had until a friend told him. The program was the brainstorm of Bob Rosenschein, and the friend was none other than Yossi Vardi, the creator of ICQ, the popular instant messaging service.

Today, investors in GuruNet Corporation include Vardi and John Sculley, former President and CEO of Pepsi Cola and Apple Computer. GuruNet's development team is based in Israel, but the company is headquartered in San Mateo, California.

The company is currently in discussions with a number of Internet content providers.

Rosenschein says what you see on GuruNet today is just the start. The service recently added local weather forecasts, and movie theater listings are on the way.

Third-party links like the ones to online bookstores mentioned above are a key part of GuruNet's business model. If people buy products from e-commerce sites they reach from GuruNet, GuruNet earns a commission. GuruNet, however, has no plans to put banner ads on its software because that would slow response time.

Rosenschein also plans to make money by selling customized software to companies so they can create in-house glossaries of online information. He expects competition, and soon, but warns would be competitors that what GuruNet accomplishes is not easy to achieve.

GuruNet is not currently available for Macintosh or Linux computers, but a version is available for the Palm IV and the Palm V (equipped with OmniSky mobile wireless internet service). Palm users receive the same relevant information, including reference materials (dictionary, encyclopedia, thesaurus, etc.) and real-time data (stock quotes, news, weather, etc.).

GuruNet isn't a breakthrough application like WordPerfect or NCSA Mosaic, but I already have it on every PC I use. It's especially handy if you're on an LAN or an "always-on" internet connection. Users with dial-up connections may not share my zeal, but try it. I think you'll agree it's a "keeper".