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SurfSaver Still Hangs Ten.

According to some estimates, the amount of information available on the Internet doubles every six months; at the beginning of 1998, there were already almost 700,000 sites and over 100 million pages. While there are a number of excellent search tools for finding what you want in this hyper-Alexandrian wealth, search sites and PC tools alike, only in the last year or so have vendors addressed the need that Internet researchers have to organize the information they find for later reference.

Back in May of 1998 I reviewed one of these tools, SurfSaver from AskSam Systems, which lets you organize saved Web pages into a searchable database that uses a simple folder-based interface. Since then, AskSam Systems has added network capabilities to the product, along with a simple means of serving up collections of saved documents over an Intranet using Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) with Active Pages installed.

As well, other vendors have stepped up to the plate with their own Internet information organizer, among them Webforia Inc., which offers Webforia, a similar product. Curious to see what a year has brought to the field of Internet organizers, I obtained a version of Webforia and compared it to SurfSaver, which has been my organizer of choice since I reviewed it.

My comparison revealed that both vendors still have a curious blind spot, at least as far as my needs are concerned, and that each has features the other would do well to add. I have hopes that in another year or so someone will get it right; for now, however, I'll continue to use SurfSaver.


Webforia actually consists of two programs: the Webforia. ClipBar, which runs in the background and is available for capturing, storing, and indexing pages whenever you're browsing, and the Webforia Organizer itself, the user interface that lets you organize and search the pages you capture. The ClipBar takes up residence in the Windows 95/98/NT Taskbar; I found that the space it consumes required resizing the Taskbar to double thickness. This approach, in my opinion, is not as convenient as AskSam's method, which is to add right-dick menu items to the browser itself; it requires more mouse movement and takes more time to use.

The ClipBar has four icons on it, allowing you to clip or bookmark a page, call up the Organizer, or invoke help. You may clip the entire page or just a portion of it; when you do so, Webforia saves the content, including all text, graphics, links, and the title; creates an abstract of the clipped document based on the first three paragraphs (or a user-specified amount of text); extracts keywords, using an intelligent algorithm that tries to select significant words and indexes the page for searching. As well, the application also saves the URL and other meta-information, including its "membership," which is simply where it is stored. Bookmarking a page does all of the above except storing and indexing the contents.

At this point, you have the choice of putting the page in the ClipTray, a sort of holding pen for documents that you'll later file appropriately or in a specific library. A library, which is comprised of categories in the familiar file/folder metaphor, is simply a collection of documents that are related. Libraries can be created from templates, many samples of templates are available from the Webforia web site, and templates can be created from libraries. Libraries can easily be sent to other researchers who use Webforia. Unlike SurfSaver, however, libraries cannot be shared over a LAN; you can, however, access libraries over a LAN or even from removable media- if the media isn't present when you try to access the library, the program prompts you for it.

The Webforia Organizer itself presents a three-pane interface, Along the left side are a series of icons, denoting the locations where pages can be found--the ClipTray, various libraries, or the Web--as well as for performing a Library search or a Web search. The top pane on the right lists all the pages in the Library selected, while the bottom left pane displays the contents of any page selected in the top pane, or acts as a browser when on the Web if desired.

Once you've clipped some pages, you can move them from library to library, or from category to category--this is one area in which Webforia is superior to AskSam, which doesn't let you move documents once you've saved them. You can modify any meta-information, add and delete keywords, add a comment (one per page) or annotations (many per pages), create "ticklers" to remind you to do something related to the page at a later time, or mark the document to be tracked, which checks the currency of your copy of the page against its source on the Web the next time you open it and gives you the option of updating it. Most of these operations also apply to bookmarked pages as well.

The Search function allows simple Boolean searches, as well as a useful pop-up dialog that lets you select from the keywords extracted by the software. Searching is fairly quick, but not as fast as SurfSaver, nor does it offer the useful "near" function of SurfSaver, which lets you look for a given word within so many words, sentences, or paragraphs of another. Webforia also lets you extend your search to the Internet using one of a number of search engines if your local search turns up nothing.

SurfSaver Revisited

Overall, SurfSaver has not changed much from the version I reviewed in May of 1998, (That review is available on the CTR web site, so I won't repeat myself here.) It still captures pages with a right mouse click or two (now supporting both Microsoft and Netscape browsers), and searches them with blinding speed. It still does not allow re-organizing pages once saved.

What has been added, however, is the very useful ability to share SurfSaver databases over a LAN, so that co-workers can contribute to the same collection of Web pages for a research project. In addition, an optional application, SurfSaver Internet Publisher, lets you publish your SurfSaver folders on an Intranet or Internet Web Server without any HTML coding or programming, using Microsoft IIS.

Overall, in my opinion, SurfSaver still has an edge over Webforia. SurfSaver was able to clip pages that Webforia could not, but I never ran across a page that SurfSaver could not clip that Webforia could SurfSaver runs much faster than Webforia, as well; the latter was almost too slow at times and seemed to consume a lot of resources (although, admittedly, I have an old, slow computer--people with an up-to-date CPU probably would find Webforia fast enough). As well, SurfSaver is just more convenient, being integrated with the browser's right-click menu.

Webforia's ability to reorganize pages once clipped is a nice feature, but since SurfSaver can search even an enormous database very fast, it's not enough to make me change. The abstracts and automatic keyword extraction of Webforia are also useful, but again, not enough to make me switch.

Both programs reveal a blind spot on the part of the vendors: neither of them allows you to download multiple pages while retaining the links, which means that pages, once captured, are no longer related. Links cannot be followed except back to the originating site, so you can't really work as effectively offline as would otherwise be possible. This is a major weakness in both applications, for my purposes. However, in general, I'd say that anyone interested in an Internet organizer would be satisfied with either of these applications, but I'll give the nod to SurfSaver for its greater speed, simplicity, and convenience.
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Title Annotation:Software Review; AskSam Systems' SurfSaver and Weboria's Webforia Organizer Web browsers
Author:Trowbridge, Dave
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Article Type:Evaluation
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 1999
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