Robocast automates navigation

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Robocast wants to cut down on clicks on the Web. This week the company launches new software that makes navigation easier for users by automating the clicking required to move around a site.

Roboplayer is a free, downloadable application that sits beside the browser. When users, for instance, complete a search on any search engine, they can drag the desired pages into Roboplayer. When finished selecting pages, the user hits play and watches while each entry comes up on the screen for the preselected amount of time, then moves to the next. The user can still click inside any of the automatic scrolling pages to view linked material.

CHOOSING WHAT TO AUTOMATE

Robocaster, a publishing version of the product, allows a media company to choose what it would like to automate. An example is a group of articles about a single subject. Robocaster also allows publishers to insert ads in the automated product.

One of the first media clients is American Express Publishing's Travel & Leisure online. The magazine is setting up an automated tour of its site that will include about 15 pages. The tour will appear first on the Robocast site and goes live Oct. 15 on the magazine's site.

"We think it's a really cool idea. Some of the issues we have, and all Web sites have, is how do you get people to go deeper into your site than four or five pages. This is a great combination between push and pull," said Richard Fairfield, American Express Publishing VP-new media.

Travel & Leisure is using Robocast to give a tour of its site, which will include articles, a restaurant search, a travel game, samples of sister travel sites and an interactive ask-the-editor question-and-answer feature. It will not have advertising initially, said Mr. Fairfield, but the company will be looking to add advertisers once the tour is up and running.

Another initial user of the software is Interactive Bureau, run by well-known designers Roger Black and Jock Spivey, who plan to introduce the technology to their customers. Interactive Bureau's clients include online versions of MSNBC, Discovery Channel and Barnes & Noble, and offline Rolling Stone and U.S. News & World Report.

Robocast CEO Damon Torres said the company now is raising about $5 million in venture capital funding, and plans to raise another $15 million early next year. Part of that money will be used to market and advertise Robocast, including an online campaign. The company doesn't have an agency of record.

APPEAL MAY BE LIMITED

David Card, analyst with Jupiter Communications, said he likes the search engine application and said it may appeal to some advertisers. Overall, Robocast seems to be a lot like push technology, which did not do well in the consumer marketplace, he said.

"I don't know if a lot of people will be interested. Search [capabilities] will probably be the biggest benefit and it has modest appeal to some advertisers who want to control when advertising shows up on sites or between searches," he said. "They say you'll save half your clicks, but clicking isn't that hard to do."

Copyright October 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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