The reality of agents on the Internet
Naturally, on the "mother of all networks", terminological uncertainty is not a small issue. You just need to see the range of names used: intelligent agents, search agents, software agents, Internet agents, interface agents, Web agents, personal agents, autonomous agents, bots, softbots, knowbots, userbots, robots, personal assistants, wizards, etc.
In any event, the "traditional tools" (search engines, directories, meta-motors...) are absolutely not sufficient when you wish to undertake strategic and business intelligence activities on the Internet. Traditional tools are very useful for occasional information retrieval. Indeed, their immediate response makes them sometimes more interesting than search agents, which as we will see it, can be very slow. But as soon as the search process becomes more complex or recurring, it is time to think about installing agents that are more or less intelligent...
It is possible to identify various categories of agent. That said, these categories as well as the agents that compose them are in perpetual evolution.
Each month, several new agents are introduced on the Internet. Since the writing of this text, many new agents will have been born.
As their name indicates it, the goal is simple: to optimize information retrieval on the Internet. They are of a great diversity and one can distinguish several subcategories. However, their slow speed means that they are used particularly to perform very complex searches, or when you need to do an exhaustive search.
Strictly speaking, they are not really agents since no client software is installed, and all search activities take place on-line from a website (for example MetaCrawler, SavvySearch or ProFusion). As we said, these meta-motors are "hybrids " which make it possible to use several tools simultaneously (search engines, directories, etc.). In other words, by filling out one form, you query several search tools simultaneously, without having to go to each site, which provides significant time savings. But, they also present some significant disadvantages. For one thing, they tend to query search tools of a very different nature which one does not often use together (for example Yahoo with AltaVista). In addition, they do not always support advanced search functions (such as Boolean operators). It seems to us that their principal interest is for getting a global view very quickly, and that they represent a very useful compromise when you wish to question a maximum number of tools in a minimum of time.