Searching made the Web. When the Web was young, we all kept link lists, which eventually came to be called bookmarks or favorites or hotlinks. If we kept lots of links, we either alphabetized or categorized them so we could find, say, a fledgling news site again.
Our link lists were incredibly valuable to us-we backed them up frequently, almost compulsively. And when the collections became so large that we couldn't find anything, we used bookmark-managing programs to search for keywords.
Then the Web got Google, and it was free. At the same time, commercial search products such as Isys scoured every file on every hard drive on your network to create an index that included every last comma and full stop. But we're still waiting for real context searching. For example, if I'm looking up something about legalizing marijuana, a regular search engine might come up with hits that include "pot," "grass," "MJ," and many other synonyms. A genuinely contextual search engine, however, might also give you "glaucoma," "chemotherapy," "nausea," and "addiction."
So far, there aren't any authentic contextual search engines-that would require artificial intelligence. Some search-engine companies claim they already do context searches, but often they're searching on customized synonyms and keywords, not context.
Truth is, the search function alone is no longer enough to lock viewers onto a given website. No wonder search sites are busily adding online word processors, spreadsheets, and other so-called productivity applications to their arsenals. You just watch: Pretty soon, Microsoft Word, Excel, and the rest of the Office Suite will be available only online.
THE CALL OF MAGICJACK
Martin Dean, president of Essential Publishers-which puts out Essential Forms (Judicial Council forms on CD linked to your client database) and Essential Courts (a Baedeker's of courthouse wheres, whats, whens, plus plenty of free parking)-anyway, a few months ago, Dean began publishing a biweekly Friday email newsletter called The Friday Letter (TFL). His first issue dealt with VoIP (voice over Internet protocol), and in it he explained what the big deal is and then sold me on a product I hadn't yet heard of. I asked Dean to summarize some points from the newsletter.
As you know, VoIP uses your computer and a fast Internet connection to convert your voice to binary signals, to be sent by your computer over the Internet. At the other end, be it a central location or at the receiving computer, it's converted back to your lovely analog voice. According to Dean, some of the conversion algorithms (or Codex) are better or more thorough than others, so VoIP providers using those produce better reception.
Most VoIP products come with an average of ten features (besides the usual phone calls): voice mail, email notification messages, call histories, conference calling, saving the conversation, and more.
To get VoIP, Dean says, you have three ways to go. First is the hardware route, which includes the Vonage services: proprietary hardware that often comes free with some routers. You'll also need a telephone-style headset (receiver and microphone) that plugs into the sound card on your computer. Voice quality is pretty good and getting better. It costs around $25 a month.
For the software route, he says, the only hardware required is a cordless phone or a telephone headset to plug into your computer. Skype is one popular example of pure software-based applications. Its conversion algorithms are excellent, producing high-quality reception that is usually as good as a cell phone. Skype provides unlimited calls into or out of the United States and Canada for about $35 a year.
Now for the third option-the MagicJack. A relative newcomer to the VoIP scene (you can tell by a few of the rough edges on the software), MagicJack is a little $20 proprietary "dongle" that plugs into the USB port on your desktop computer or laptop and then installs itself in about five minutes. Dean says the best part is, you plug an ordinary telephone into the other end of the jack, eliminating any need for a headset. On the road, plug your laptop into the Internet connection in your hotel room, plug the room phone into the other end of MagicJack, and start calling. The sound quality is as high as that of the land-line phone you've chosen, he says. One year of unlimited calls to the United States and Canada is $20, so during the first year of service you'll spend $40 (including the dongle); the following years, only $20.
Rosie says: Check out the website (www.magicjack.com). It looks just like a late-night TV commercial for Ginsu knives.