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Online—Software fulfills demand for personalized Web sites

Predicting trends in the notoriously fickle world of the Internet and high-technology is not easy and recent history is strewn with the tarnished reputations of those who have tried and failed.

It might help, of course, to have a crystal ball, though Wil Shaw believes he has something even better , Chrystal Software.

Shaw, vice president marketing for the San Diego-based company, has no doubt which way the wind is blowing and is confident enough to stake his job on this particular forecast.

“The biggest move in the industry right now is towards personalized Web sites,” he said. “The days of static, generic Web pages are numbered.”

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Shaw says individuals and especially businesses want highly personalized, live content, updated in real time. “Of course, if I’m wrong about this I’m out of a job,” he quips.

– On Track For Success

But the success to date of Chrystal Software, a wholly owned subsidiary of Xerox Corp., suggests Shaw and his colleagues are on the right track.

The company spun off from Xerox five years ago and today employs around 65 people, almost half of them at its San Diego headquarters and the rest at offices in Washington, D.C., England and Germany.

Shaw won’t talk sales or revenue figures but is happy to report that the company, one of the pioneers in the field of content management, has enjoyed double-digit growth in each of the last four quarters.

Driving the latest spurt is Eclipse 1.1, the company’s recently released tool for personalizing Web sites and helping users create, manage and deliver dynamic Web content.

Shaw says almost any Web business can benefit from using Eclipse, which costs around $89,000 “out of the box.” He says this basic package would be adequate for most needs though modules can be added to support a wider variety of uses.

Personalized Web pages are triggered by some visitor identification , perhaps a number or code, or maybe just a name and password. When a page is requested, Eclipse instantly retrieves the customized content from a set of stored components.

– Tailoring Web Content To Reader

It then formats the content as a Web page specific to that reader so that two people sitting next to each other and logging on at the same time might find themselves looking at two quite different pages.

Eclipse also formats pages according to the delivery device. This means even the same person might get a varied response if they were accessing the information via a CD-ROM, a palm pilot, a desktop computer or in printed form.

Shaw sees huge benefits in personalizing Web sites especially when it comes to customer service, e-commerce and business-to-business applications.

He says visiting any Web site to buy something or obtain information is far more appealing when the content is personalized, interactive and dynamic than if it’s in the same static, dated format everyone else is getting.

Patrick Casey is executive vice president of Lightspeed Interactive Inc., based in Pleasanton, Calif., which specializes in business-to-business Internet training and education.

Casey believes his company’s application of Eclipse takes in-house training to another level where the emphasis is on a personalized approach to sales and marketing staff.

He says the user-friendly Eclipse technology enables Lightspeed to dynamically assemble personalized Web sites and then teach companies how to manage their own Internet and Intranet training systems.

– Software Can Help Protect Data

Besides targeting information to specific readers, Chrystal Software’s technology can also be used to restrict access to information and protect data.

Shaw said Eclipse has tremendous potential for Web-based education and distance learning where access might be determined according to subject or on the basis of a student’s age or progress.

Because Eclipse is compatible with existing Web pages, browsers, servers and Web design tools, the software also provides an efficient and flexible authoring engine allowing clients to constantly create and update data.

The system incorporates a feature known as “replication,” which allows amended information to be shifted seamlessly to a delivery server and transmitted in real time without requiring any manual update process.

Shaw said one key to the success of Eclipse is its high-performance content management which pays dividends on Web pages and also when electronically updating reference sources such as trade manuals.

– Some Content May Be Saved

The software can isolate and change individual components within a large document, which means clients can re-use the remaining information without having to re-create or duplicate what is already there.

That’s a huge advantage, according to Cris Carpi, team leader for new technology at the United States Army Publishing Agency, in Alexandria, Va.

She and her colleagues edit around 1,200 Army administrative publications and regulations which are constantly being updated on different revision schedules.

Carpi said the content management software enables them to track the different versions and graphics used, make sure only the most current ones are in the system, and save writers and editors from having to work on entire documents.

Chrystal Software’s ability to add interactive, customized content to traditional Web sites has attracted interest from around the world, and clients range from a distance-learning provider in Canada to a Swiss bank.

The company sells software to industries as diverse as manufacturing, aerospace, telecommunications, automotive and publishing, and counts household names like Sun Microsystems and Mercedes-Benz among its customers.

Nelson is a free-lance writer for the Business Journal.


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