September 20, 2007, 12:00 AM

Get ready for next wave of web technology, expert says

The combination of trends like intelligent search engines, new tools for user-generated content and social networks are ushering in a new era of a consumer-centric Internet, says Donna Hoffman, co-director of the Sloan Center for Internet Retailing.

The combination of trends like intelligent search engines, new tools for user-generated content and social networks are ushering in a new era of a consumer-centric Internet, says Donna Hoffman, co-director of the Sloan Center for Internet Retailing at the University of California, Riverside.

“We’re in the midst of an exponential growth in technology, opening the door to new applications that will come online almost as fast as we can dream of them,” Hoffman said in a keynote address at the Shop.org conference and trade show this week.

Many of these tools will serve to augment the shopping process, providing new ways to support how consumers search for products and make purchases, Hoffman said.

A new flock of intelligent search engines, including ChaCha, Rollyo, Sproose and MyShopPal, provide ways to help shoppers zero in on particular types of products, Hoffman said. ChaCha provides a combination of personal service from search experts along with technology that learns a consumer’s preferences; Rollyo lets consumers control the type of web sites searched; Sproose searches for items based on consumer ratings; and MyShopPal provides personal advice from fashion experts as its technology learns a searcher’s preferences.

For more community-based hands-on and virtual shopping, social-shopping mirrors, a technology tested by Bloomingdale’s earlier this year, can be used to augment a friends-supported decision process, Hoffman said. Many teenage shoppers prefer to shop with instant advice from friends before making a purchase, and social-shopping mirrors support this shopping technique by using a combination of cameras and web site connections to let shoppers transmit images of themselves in outfits to a web site viewed by friends. As friends enter comments on suggested outfits on the web site, their content appears on the mirror in the dressing room for their friend to view.

Greasemonkey, a web page development tool for creating content viewed in Firefox web browsers, lets uses add new functionality to web pages. Such mash-ups, for example, can include features like a price-comparison tool taken from one web site and inserted to another. Greasemonkey, which is intended for web neophytes as well as development experts, has hundreds of prepared scripts for building web page content as well as tools for more sophisticated customization.

New tools from Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. also support consumer-generated web page content. Microsoft’s Popfly application, which is still in beta test mode, provides a set of online visual tools for building web content and developing mash-ups of content from multiple sites; Popfly is also being developed as an online network community for sharing such content.

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