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Web Voyager

By Ellen Highland Fernandez

Current Column

Using Software Agents to Find the Perfect Match

Software agents allow you to use the web to do things like select your music based on your personal tastes, find books, and locate people with similar interests.

A software agent is a piece of software which can interact with the user. It can take the initiative and control over its own actions, can accept requests from the human user and is responsible for deciding how and where to satisfy the request. The agent can adapt itself to the preferences of the user based on previous experience and can adapt to changes in its environment.

When using a program with a software agent, the user will usually be prompted to answer a series of questions. The agent analyzes the answers to determine which question to ask next and to determine what information can best serve the user.

At the moment, most of the programs utilizing software agents are still in the experimental phase. The programers appreciate feedback as they refine the programs to better serve the human users.

I tried a few myself. The one that I found the most fun was Lifestyle Finder . It's objective is to give you a list of recommended web sites based upon your interests. I tried it two times. Each time, it started off with a different series of questions. With Lifestyle Finder, you work with "Waldo" to determine your profile. Waldo asked me to specify my favorite leisure-time activities, tell him what type of car I drove, what I enjoyed reading in the newspapers, type of home I lived in, and what music I enjoyed listening to.

At one point, Waldo gave me an update on his prediction of me by saying "Waldo can see you driving. Waldo hears voices of children. Waldo hears you say: 'Nooooooo! Put that hammer down!'"

Waldo has good eyes.

Finally, Waldo gave me a list of five web sites for these categories: Things I can buy, places I can go and stores I can shop at. For me, the recommended sites for places I can go, were right on target. The agent selected sites I might really want to visit. The sites in the other categories were not quite me but I was interested in a few of the sites. All in all, a fun experience.

Another site I enjoyed visiting was Bargain Finder . It searches for online stores which stock music CD's. It does real-time comparison shopping. It works wonderfully if you know the name of and can spell correctly the album you are looking for.

For book lovers, Book Worm Bargainbot does what Bargain Finder does but does it for books. It will allow you to search by book title and/or by author. I searched for a specific book and found it on sale for $8. It regularly cost $14!

The Movie Critic recommends films to see and to avoid based on your profile. When you sign up, you are asked to rate twelve movies. You can choose your own or select from a list. Your ratings are compared to others who have similar likes and dislikes to create a profile. Once a profile is created, you do not need to update it. The service recommends movies and videos and tells you what you may want to avoid.

I tried it and was pleasantly surprised. It is true, I would probably enjoy the film "Contact" and not get a thrill out of watching "Barb Wire". If you are planning on seeing a film with a friend, have your friend create their own profile then select the option of viewing a film with the friend. Based on the combined profiles, the site will make its recommendations. This can be a great marriage-solver and good way to help ensure a successful date.

If you are interested in learning more about software agents, check out MIT's Media Laboratory and The University of Maryland Baltimore County's Computer Science and Electrical Engineering department .

As you voyage down the cyber-path, you are encouraged to send me your ideas for topics you would like to see discussed and to share your favorite links. Send correspondence to me at: e-mail: Webmaster@cpubco.com, via post: Web Voyager, Ellen H. Fernandez, PO Box 2000, Clarksburg, WV 26302, or through our web site. Phone: 626-1466.

EDITOR'S NOTE Ellen Highland Fernandez is the Webmaster for Clarksburg Publishing Company's site and her column appears on the first and third Sundays every month in the Sunday Exponent-Telegram

Clarksburg Publishing Company, P.O. Box 2000, Clarksburg, WV 26302 USA
Copyright © Clarksburg Publishing Company 1997