A start-up company in the Bluegrass State has launched a new front end to Google as well as a technology to extend the functionality of hyperlinks. Based in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, iLOR (short for "Internet Lore") operates its Web search service at http://www.ilor.com, and markets its underlying technology at http://www.i-lor.com/hyperconcepts/index.shtml.
In a telephone interview, Steve Mansfield, CEO of iLOR KY, LLC, told me that his company started about 1 year ago with the goal of identifying opportunities to address shortcomings with existing technologies. To examine how people interacted with the Web, iLOR launched focus groups, which found that virtually all users quickly go to a search engine when exploring the Web, but that many indicated frustration with "the linear searching experience." He said: "Users find it difficult to enter a search, then navigate through the hit list. How does the user administer all the links to choose from? By clicking on items on the list, then hitting the browser's Back button, users quickly get frustrated."
To confirm these findings, iLOR contracted with KRC Research, which conducted more structured focus group studies in New York, Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Armed with confirmation, iLOR set out to develop tools to attack this problem of navigational frustration.
The company concluded that the best approach was to extend the functionality of the hyperlink. I asked Mansfield if any of iLOR's thinking was inspired by some of the work several years ago on Hyper-G, which allows for bidirectional and multipurpose hyperlinks. He indicated that the company was indeed influenced by that pioneering work. Mansfield also says that CD-ROM software has a much richer, nonlinear navigational capacity than Web browsers; thus iLOR saw an opportunity to bring that functionality to the Web.
iLOR developed technology that it calls "HydraLinks," which essentially functions as a mouse-over event. When you move the cursor over a HydraLink, instead of being given the single choice of a URL that you might click on, you're given four choices.
Mansfield says that once HydraLinks were created, an obvious application was banner ads. A user considering clicking on a banner ad could mouse over the ad, and be given options beyond either clicking through or choosing not to do so. The four basic options are:
Check it later—Pop open a new window with a link to the ad, so you can continue navigating the Web page on which the ad appears, and return to check the ad when done with that process.
Go now, anchor here—Go to the banner ad site, but pop open a window that offers an "anchor" for returning to the page that included the ad.
Open in taskbar—A new button is placed on the Windows taskbar, as if the user has opened the link in a new window and then minimized that window.
Open in new window—The banner ad site is opened in a new window (essentially similar to right-clicking and selecting the "open in new window" option in some browsers).
Once the multifunction hyperlink tool was developed, Mansfield says the plan was for iLOR to implement its own Web search engine, and apply the technology to that search engine. Upon further consideration, the company decided to forge a partnership with an existing search engine. "We felt Google was the best choice," he says. "Google is the sixth most popular search site, including Yahoo! and all the rest. We like their highly relevant hit list. And we like the fact that the Google hit list is not a paid position list. Our research says users want that."
Mansfield indicated that iLOR might consider a partnership with another search engine, but no such addition is under current discussion.
The iLOR search site offers the four basic navigational choices provided by HydraLinks, with the label "LORlinks" to describe the functionality in this application. The "check it later" option is "put in my list" for the iLOR search engine. Once an item is in the list, a user can e-mail the link, add the link to browser favorites, click on the hyperlink, or remove the item from the list.
I asked Mansfield if the company is looking at ways to extend the My List functionality to allow a user moving from computer to computer to bring the list along, ŕ la Blink.com, or if iLOR was considering to collaboratively share My List in workgroups. He indicated that neither avenue is currently being explored.
Mansfield says that the Google searching is implemented using an XML-like proprietary protocol with Google. Astute searchers may observe that the iLOR hit list and the Google hit list may differ slightly for a given search. Mansfield says this is due to two reasons: 1) The iLOR search currently only performs English-language searching, and 2) because Google is spread across multiple servers, sometimes the iLOR search may be slightly out of sync with a given Google search window.
iLOR will license LORlink technology to companies wishing to offer this functionality on their Web sites, and iLOR provides a tool to build LORlink-enhanced sites. I asked Mansfield to name customers. He said, "We are only 6 weeks into our launch. We expect to announce some customer relationships soon. Thus far we can say that Ad360 is a partner."
Greg Notess, editor of Search Engine Showdown, observed that he had noted some sluggishness with the iLOR site compared to Google, and that on occasion he was unable to connect altogether. He also expressed concern about the lack of full functionality on all browsers. Still, he said, "It offers some interesting additions in terms of features."
It appears that iLOR is proud of those innovations, and intends to protect them through the Patent Office. The iLOR Web site warns users ominously: "iLOR KY aggressively pursues all forms of intellectual property protection including patents, trademarks, and copyrights, to protect all its intellectual property assets. All of iLOR KY's products are patent pending with the United States Patent and Trademark Office covering iLOR KY's core technology. In addition, iLOR KY holds a variety of registered trademarks and copyrights over its intellectual properties. For further information, contact Arent Fox (http://www.arentfox.com), Washington, DC."
One industry source, who asked not to be identified, noted that Dialog, LexisNexis, and Dow Jones have offered iLOR-like features for years. Given the multipurpose hyperlink concepts of Hyper-G and these other precursors to iLOR, it will be interesting to see someday exactly what iLOR's pending patents assert that they cover.
I asked Mansfield if one of his goals was to create "Silicon Bluegrass." He laughed and said, "We call it Silicon Holler." I asked if there was any challenge to operating from rural Kentucky. "Well, some of our negotiations have begun with, ‘You're based where?' But the fact is, for an Internet business you can be based anywhere so long as you're connected."