Until recently, connecting with folks for conversation on the Internet meant visiting chat rooms or hoping that your buddies were online when you were. Not anymore. Thanks to a slew of next-generation browser tools, finding, chatting, and, yes, even surfing with friends and colleagues has never been easier. Here's our comparison of five tools, each of which makes the Web a less lonely place to surf. These technologies still have a ways to go, but if you're an early adopter, it's worth experimenting with them.
|Tool||What it Does||Nice Touch||Needs|
|Gooey, from Hyoernix www.gooey.com||Allows you to create instant chat sessions on any site and then continue those discussions while trolling through the Web.||Not only can you chat with other users on a site, but you can also send files of any type (picture, text, audio, and video) to fellow Gooey users.||Watch out for information overload. With Gooey, you can get live video feeds from Bloomberg Television while chatting with other Web surfers.|
|Instant Rendezvous, from multimate.net www.multimate.net||Enables instant messaging -- and then some. You can see and communicate with people who are on your buddy list, as well as with other Instant Rendezvous users who are on the same Web page as you are.||IR Wireless. Access your buddy list, email messages, and community notifications from any Web-enabled mobile phone or PDA. Just bookmark a URL, enter a user name and a password, and you're in.||The user interface has got to go. The icons for the tool's various functions aren't very explanatory. For example, the button for retrieving messages is an exclamation point. What does that have to do with anything?|
|SpotOn www.spoton.com||Lets you record a collection of pages as a tour. Other users can then "flip" through the pages simply by hitting the "next" button on the tool's remote- control-like panel.||You can rate and annotate tours, and then email your reviews to friends -- who don't even need SpotOn to "play" the tours.||If you want to create tours, you'll need the full version of SpotOn, which is only compatible with Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Also, there is no offline capability, so you have to be connected to the Net to view a tour.|
|ThirdVoice 2000 www.thirdvoice.com||Allows you to leave "sticky notes" with your comments about Web pages (the latest version of this high-profile and controversial tool).||This version turns any word into an "active word." Click on an active word, and ThirdVoice retrieves any content associated with that word, including shopping opportunities and discussions, that it can find.||Although ThirdVoice maintains most of its original sticky-note capabilities, it's lost some of its rebel appeal. You can still attach notes to a word or a phrase, but other people have to look in the "notes" section to find them.|
|Yahoo! Messenger www.yahoo.com||Offers traditional instant messaging -- with a few perks. Messenger is tied to many Yahoo! info services, so you can access info that you might want to talk about while still inside the Messenger window.||You can set up Messenger to alert you when you get email messages, or when you have a meeting. So, if you're lost in conversation, you won't miss out on any important developments.||There's no way to see or to meet other Messenger users who might be on a specific Web page. However, you can search the member directory by keyword and find users with similar interests.|