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Selling Umbrellas? Check The Web Forecast


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SELLING UMBRELLAS? CHECK THE WEB FORECAST

FOR SOME PEOPLE, AN ACCURATE local weather forecast means more than just deciding whether to carry an umbrella or smear on suntan lotion. For retail sales managers, weather patterns can make or break a sales period. Last May, for example, retail sales were down nearly 1% because of an unusually cool month. Looking ahead, would retail outlets be wise to stock up on air conditioners this summer? If so, where are the likely "hot spots"? AccuWeather Inc., long known for its weather forecasting, wants to tailor its data to individual customers' needs.

The weather service is testing a Web site called Your Personal AccuWeather that provides forecast information for the area you request. Each personalized page features a 10-day forecast, local and national weather maps, and Doppler radar and satellite pictures--just like the ones TV forecasters use. AccuWeather also will provide historical weather data, so savvy weather watchers can try to glean what the weather might be by watching past patterns. The site, personal.accuweather.com, is free for now, but AccuWeather expects to charge a monthly fee.EDITED BY AMY CORTESE Paul M. EngReturn to top

FLYING INTO THOSE CLOUDS OF DATA

THE AMOUNT OF INFORMAtion online doubles every 12 months, market researchers figure, overwhelming our ability to make sense of it all. The latest effort to better organize the contents of vast Internet databases comes from Perspecta Inc. The San Francisco-based startup uses spatial maps to cluster data in relevant groupings that users can zoom in on using a mouse. Searching for documents with Perspecta's SmartContent system is akin to flying through space, with new subcategories popping up on screen as users move deeper into their area of interest. Clicking on a document reveals a web of thin lines linking it to related documents and topics.

The system is from Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab's Millennium Project, which set out to present all the day's news at once in 3-D on a single screen. Perspecta's founders trimmed SmartContent to 2-D so it could run on standard PCs. Xerox Corp. and Apple Computer Inc. have been working on similar ways to display large amounts of data at a glance. While they have used tree structures to organize information, "our approach is nonlinear," says Steve Holtzman, Perspecta's president and CEO. Early users of SmartContent include Reel.com, an online movie store, and AllTheNews, a Web-based news service. Investors include Informix Corp. and Nicholas Negroponte, director of the Media Lab.EDITED BY AMY CORTESE Paul C. JudgeReturn to top

COMPUSERVE DISCOVERS THE WEB--AND A BUYER?

WHEN COMPUSERVE PULLED the plug on its splashy Wow! consumer online service last year, many pundits thought it was the beginning of the end for the company. Indeed, while competitors were signing up hordes of consumers, CompuServe (CSI) was losing members--and money. For the quarter ended on Apr. 30, CSI lost $12.2 million, vs. a loss of $1.1 million a year earlier. But the company's not throwing in the towel.

On June 16, CSI introduced BusinessWeb, a Web-hosting service aimed at small- to mid-size businesses. For a $50 sign-up fee and $79 a month, CSI will help small fry set up a virtual storefront and then run the site. It even promises to do the job in as little as two hours.

A good idea, but is it enough to turn around CSI's fortunes? Hosting Web-based businesses is a hot growth area--and a hotly contested one. CSI will compete with everyone from AT&T to hundreds of local Web-site developers. And officials concede that they are still hoping to find a buyer for the troubled company.EDITED BY AMY CORTESE Paul M. EngReturn to top


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