In the near future, librarians may need to become masters of delegation more than ever, especially in light of the information explosion. But instead of assigning research-intensive projects to humans, they will divvy up projects to software. It behooves the savvy information professionals to bookmark BotSpot and visit the site periodically.
First, what are bots? As the creators of BotSpot explain, bots - - also known as intelligent agents - - are "software with a mission." Bots have been developed to make our lives easier, saving us time and labor. They can help us cope with or alleviate information overload. Specifically, bots are used for information retrieval or resource discovery, and they have applications in "data mining," which involves searching for patterns in unwieldy masses of information. They also busily work in the background, hunting for and gathering specific types of information such as news or stock prices.
BotSpot's objective is to classify and organize bots by subject and it lives up to its purpose. Surfers can display a list of all bots, or view bots by category. Each product includes an annotation and many are even reviewed. Just as subject-specific search engines have proliferated on the Web, there are innumerable bots as well. There are bots for news, bots for shopping, bots for data mining, bots for stocks, bots for surveillance, and bots for Web searching. Most tools are free to download and use to your advantage.
Other essential areas of BotSpot include "Best of the Bots," an annotated listing of hand-picked tools; "Bots by Category," which spells out the myriad applications that bots can have in daily life; and "FAQs on Bots," which links to associations, technical papers, magazines, and newsletters, etc. (some of this content is a bit technical).
One hallmark of a solid Web site is its interaction with the user or visitor, and BotSpot meets this standard. BotSpot solicits feedback and participation. Visitors can also participate in Usenet-like discussions, lurking and posting in the "BotSpot Forum."
The site's initial page has a basic search box in addition to a site map, which should be more prominently displayed. It's unclear how to use the search engine until viewing a page of results, which links to more search options and help files.
No one can foretell the future of information retrieval, but here's a suggestion: librarians may need to add bots to our search toolbox along with Web subject directories and portals, bonafide search engines, metasearchers, and Invisible Web gateways. We'll want to visit BotSpot to check the pulse of artificial intelligence on the Web. And as we polish our crystal balls, let's remind ourselves that human beings create bots . . . not the other way around. Therefore, some of us will still be employed!
C. Brian Smith