Add-on Broadens Your Browsing

SAN FRANCISCO (07/21/2000) - You're looking at a Web page. You're curious about a company. So you click an icon, and up comes a tabbed box, in which you can find things ranging from the company's stock value to better prices on what it has on sale.

That is the promise of Zack Bar 2.0, currently in beta test for an August release. Zack Network Inc. hopes to use this bar to highlight its proxy server-based technology, which it licenses to Internet service providers. Proxy servers are programs that sit between you and the Internet. They're used for various purposes, including splitting one Internet account between multiple computers. Zack uses a proxy server to examine the page you're looking at and add information.

If you subscribe to the free service, you'll be able to bring up the Zack Bar from an icon on every Web page. One tab, Portal, will include headline news and access to search engines. Another, Community, will search newsgroups, translate pages from one language to another, and suggest other sites you might want to visit. The Finance tab, in addition to obvious things like financial news, will have a stock lookup for the site you're currently viewing. Trivia does pretty much what the name implies.

Shop While Zack Pops

The Shopping tab will see what you're viewing; offer product reviews, price comparisons, and coupons; and even let you know if the item is available at an auction. The site you're on will not have to be one that's cooperating with Zack Networks.

Any service that watches where you go and what you consider buying has the potential to create some pretty thorough profiles. Zack Networks promises not to make use of that potential or to sell your data.

To its credit, the registration process requires no information other than a username and a password. And the privacy policy states, "Our system is designed to erase all clickstream information that has not been obtained within the last 30 minutes." Yet the service does track merchandise you examine online, in order to provide a product list for your convenience.

Zack is giving away the service but selling the technology. And how reliable is that technology? On the day I looked at it--an aberration, I hope--it was difficult to get anything, even Zack's stand-alone demo program, to work. One particular problem Zack admitted to involved firewalls, which can interfere with the free services.

According to Zack, this problem won't occur if your ISP opts to license the technology. And that, of course, is the company's real hope.