WO2001004782A2 - Method and apparatus for providing remote hosted search agents - Google Patents

Method and apparatus for providing remote hosted search agents Download PDF

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Publication number
WO2001004782A2
WO2001004782A2 PCT/US2000/018773 US0018773W WO0104782A2 WO 2001004782 A2 WO2001004782 A2 WO 2001004782A2 US 0018773 W US0018773 W US 0018773W WO 0104782 A2 WO0104782 A2 WO 0104782A2
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WO
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Prior art keywords
search
agent
agents
web site
subscriber
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PCT/US2000/018773
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French (fr)
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WO2001004782A3 (en )
Inventor
Miles B. Kehoe
Mark L. Bennett
Wolf L. Logan
Eric C. Williams
Aahz
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Searchbutton.Com
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    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06FELECTRIC DIGITAL DATA PROCESSING
    • G06F17/00Digital computing or data processing equipment or methods, specially adapted for specific functions
    • G06F17/30Information retrieval; Database structures therefor ; File system structures therefor
    • G06F17/30861Retrieval from the Internet, e.g. browsers
    • G06F17/30864Retrieval from the Internet, e.g. browsers by querying, e.g. search engines or meta-search engines, crawling techniques, push systems
    • G06F17/30867Retrieval from the Internet, e.g. browsers by querying, e.g. search engines or meta-search engines, crawling techniques, push systems with filtering and personalisation

Abstract

A method of providing a remotely hosted search agent capability for a web site is described. The remotely hosted search agent can operate interoperate with a remotely hosted search capability, or with other search engines. Thus, a subscriber can sign up her/his web site for search agent capabilities in connection with a particular remotely hosted search agent, or other search engine. The remotely hosted search agent capability inserts a save search command into search results. This command may take the form of an HTML form to allow a visitor viewing the search results to submit a request to save her/his search. Once saved, the searches, or search agents as they are called, can be automatically executed. Reports can then be generated to visitors with new search results that match their search agents after the agents are automatically executed. In some instances, composite electronic mail messages are sent to visitors where the electronic mail includes new results from multiple search agents for that visitor. In some instances, advertisements are inserted into the messages based on the saved search associated with the search agents reporting results in the message. A search agent administration interface may be provided to allow visitors to modify and control the operation of search agents.

Description

METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR PROVIDING REMOTE HOSTED

SEARCH AGENTS

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Field of the Invention This invention relates to the field of Internet site development and use.

In particular, the invention relates to a method for providing localized search agent capabilities using a remote search host. Description of the Related Art

Web masters looking to provide a search function for their sites have had limited options. One approach is to attempt to use a generic search engine such as Altavista™, or Hotbot™, along with search arguments that attempt to limit the search to a particular web site. For example, if the web master of "www.example.com" wanted to provide searching with Altavista™, they could develop a search that limits the results to "+url: www.example.com". Because the generic search engines will not regularly spider the web master's site as frequently as she/he might update it, the results can become out of date quickly. Additionally, the search results from the generic search engines are not presented in a format that is consistent with a given site's format, but rather in the format of the search engine's other pages. Another approach is to install custom search software on the web site itself. One example is Ultraseek™ from Infoseek Software, Sunnyvale, California. Using Ultraseek™, a web master installs custom software on a server machine and can then set up the server to search their web site. This requires the web master to have the ability to set up the Ultraseek™ software on a server and have the disk space, memory space, and technical skill to host the information. These software packages can be expensive, e.g. $995 for a basic license for Ultraseek™. Further, they depend on the user's ability to install specialized software on a server machine. Many web sites are remotely hosted such as on Internet service provider (ISP) computers. These web sites typically do not have the ability to run dedicated search servers for users. Further, users are restricted, as such they typically are not allowed to software. Another related component to providing search is what is called search profiling, also referred to as a search minder or as a search agent. The term search agent will be used to refer to this general class of functions throughout. A few existing services already provide search agent capabilities. For example, the search engine Northern Light, <http://www.northernlight.com>, from Northern Light Technology, LLC, Cambridge, Massachusetts, offers a basic search agent capabilities to visitors of the search engines through a "Save Alert" link on the search results page. The resulting alert can then be stored with your profile. Periodically, Northern Light will notify the web site visitor when there are additional search results.

On the other end of the spectrum, services such as NetMind's Mind- it(TM) service, <http://www.netmind.com >, from NetMind Technologies, Inc., Campbell, California, allow a subscribers to receive notification messages when specific web pages the subscribers identify are changed. These notifications are not search agents in the traditional sense, since the user must identify each page she/he wants to track and further the notices only indicate whether or not there have been changes to those pages.

These are just two examples of search agent features, other examples include Web Clipper, <http://www.webclipper.org/> and profiling engines provided by Verity. Similarly, some sites have offered profiling of more traditional database searches, e.g. saved searches on Westlaw(TM), Lexis- Nexis(TM), DIALOG(TM), etc. In some instances, the profile results may be reported by electronic mail.

The previous techniques do not allow a web master to easily set up a search agent capability for their site without installing customized software.

Accordingly, what is needed is an improved method and apparatus for providing search agents.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

A method of providing a remotely hosted search agent capability for a web site is described. The remotely hosted search agent can operate interoperate with a remotely hosted search capability, or with other search engines. Thus, a subscriber can sign up her/his web site for search agent capabilities in connection with a particular remotely hosted search agent, or other search engine. In some embodiments, a single provider may provide both remotely hosted search capability and remotely hosted search agent capability. In other embodiments, a proprietary search engine may be configured to interoperate with the remotely hosted search agent capabilities.

The remotely hosted search agent capability inserts a save search command into search results. This command may take the form of an HTML form to allow a visitor viewing the search results to submit a request to save her/his search. In some embodiments, the save search command may include one or more form inputs to allow a visitor to designate her/his electronic mail address and/or options relating to the search agent. In some embodiments, cookies, or other identifying methods, are used to identify visitors and obviate the need to request an electronic mail address from visitors.

Once saved, the searches, or search agents as they are called, can be automatically executed. This may require interoperability with the search engine to identify new results. Also, a threshold can be used to screen out results that match the search, but are not considered sufficiently relevant according to the metric used by the search engine.

The execution of the agents can be scheduled by the visitor; however, defaults can be provided by the system and or the subscriber. Thus, a system wide default might be for weekly runs of search agents. A particular subscriber might request daily runs for her web site. Finally, a visitor might request that her search agent only run monthly on a particular site. The most specific rule for execution can be selected and used by the system. Additionally, a visitor, subscriber, or the system can designate that a group of logically related sites be searched simultaneously by a search agent. Thus, for example, a company with multiple divisions each having separate web sites might offer a search agent capability that spanned multiple distinct web sites, each potentially having its own search engine capability. Reports can then be generated to visitors with new search results that match their search agents after the agents are automatically executed. In some instances, composite electronic mail messages are sent to visitors where the electronic mail includes new results from multiple search agents for that visitor. In some instances, advertisements are inserted into the messages based on the saved search associated with the search agents reporting results in the message.

A web based search agent administration interface may be provided to allow visitors to modify and control the operation of search agents.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES

Fig. 1 illustrates a system for providing localized search capabilities according to some embodiments of the invention.

Fig. 2 is a process flow diagram for subscribing a web site to the local search systems. Figs. 3-6 illustrate an example of the set up of the local search.

Fig. 7 is a process flow diagram for searching a web site according some embodiments of the invention.

Figs. 8-9 illustrate an example of local search.

Fig. 10 illustrates a back end system used by some embodiments of the invention.

Fig. 11 is a process flow diagram for indexing a web site according to some embodiments of the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The remotely hosted local search system enables web sites to easily be search enabled by adding a small amount of hypertext markup language (HTML) code to a web page. This in turn allows visitors of the web sites to search for content within the web site. No software needs to be installed at the web site; therefore, even web sites hosted by an Internet service provider for individual users can be easily search enabled without software or common gateway interface (CGI) programs. Additionally, a search agent capability can be offered to visitors of the web site. This allows visitors to save search queries and receive periodic notifications of new material on the subscriber's web site that correspond to the search request.

A program is a sequence of instructions that can be executed on a computer. A computer refers to a computer, a group of computers coupled in communication, and/or some other type of computing device. The remote search can offer this service for free with advertising support and/or as a paid subscription service for web site owners, also called subscribers. Further, the remote search can allow subscribers to customize the appearance of the search forms and search results provided to users so that they match the appearance of the web site. Additionally, the remote search can offer the search agent capabilities to visitors for free with advertising support and/or as a paid subscription service for web site visitors.

As a result, web site specific search agent capabilities can be provided without the need for specialized hardware or software.

The description of some embodiments of the invention is organized as follows. First, an overview of the system components is provided along with a discussion of the general operation of the system. Then, the process of subscribing to the remote search is discussed in conjunction with an example. Next, the use of the search system by visitors is discussed in conjunction with an example. Then, the use of the search agent capabilities will be discussed in conjunction with an example. Lastly, a more detailed technical description of the remote search follows. A. System Overview

Figure 1 illustrates a system including some embodiments of the invention. This could be used to provide remotely hosted searching for web sites hosted throughout the Internet. The following paragraph lists the elements of Figure 1 and describes their interconnections. Figure 1 includes a subscriber 100, a service provider 102, visitors 104A-B, a network 106, and a remote search 108. The remote search 108 includes a subscriber user interface (UI) 114, a search UI 116, a search system 118, and a search agent UI 120. The service provider 102 includes a data 110. The data 110 includes a web site comprised of the web pages 112A-B. The subscriber 100, the service provider 102, the visitors 104A- B and the remote search 108 are coupled in communication with the network 106.

The following describes the uses of the elements of Figure 1. The network 106 is a network such as the Internet and/or combinations of other networks. For example, in some embodiments, the network 106 includes a private intranet coupled via a firewall to the Internet. In such an embodiment, the subscriber 100, the service provider 102, and the visitors 104A-B would be local to the intranet while the remote search 108 could be located outside the intranet and coupled in communication with the intranet.

The subscriber 100 is anyone with authority to request a search feature for a given web site (e.g. the web site stored at the service provider 102 as the web pages 112A-B). The subscriber 100 accesses network 106 with a computer. Typically, the subscriber 100 is a web master for a particular site, e.g. the intranet administrator, an individual for their personal home pages, a site maintainer, a content manager, a support manager, etc.

The web pages 112A-B can be standard hypertext markup language (HTML) web pages, extensible markup language (XML) web pages, images, portable document format (PDF) files, Microsoft™ Office™ documents, and/or other types of web pages. Although in this example, the web site is hosted on a service provider 102 that the subscriber does not control, the subscriber could also be in control of the web site. This might arise when a company has a web site hosted on a computer they control, but they prefer to use the remote search 108 to avoid the need to deploy customized search software. In this example, the only authority the subscriber 100 has at the service provider 102 is the ability to update files within her/his web site directory. The visitors 104A-B are visitors using computers to access the web site over the network 106. Visitors can use standard web browsers such as Netscape(TM) Navigator(TM), from Netscape Communications, Mountain View, California, and Internet Explorer(TM), from Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, Washington, to access the web site. Using the web browser, the visitors 104A-B can view web pages (e.g. the web page 112A-B) of the web site and follow links on the web pages.

The remote search 108 receives subscription requests over the subscriber UI 114 from subscribers (e.g. the subscriber 100). Using the subscriber UI 114, the subscribers (e.g. the subscriber 100) can request that their web site be indexed for search capabilities. The remote search 108 will index the web site via the network 106 using the search system 118. The subscribers (e.g. the subscriber 100) will be provided a small piece of search code. The subscribers (e.g. the subscriber 100) can include the search code in their web site (e.g. by inserting it in the web page 112A). Typically, the search code is an HTML code for including a link to a search form page.

The subscriber UI 114 can include options to allow subscribers (e.g. the subscriber 100) to customize the appearance of the search form page and the search results page for their web site generated by the search UI 116 for visitors (e.g. the visitors 104A-B). This allows the search form page and search results page generated by the search UI 116 to look more like the web site itself, e.g. colors, logos, fonts, and/or other elements.

The search UI 116 provides an interface to visitors to the search function of web sites subscribed to the remote search 108. The search UI 116 provides a search form page for visitors (e.g. the visitors 104A-B) to enter search terms and a search results page for showing visitors the search results.

The search agent UI 120 provides an interface to visitors to the search agent functions. The search agent UI 120 may be integrated with the search UI 116 as a single component in some embodiments of the invention. Additionally, the search UI 120 can allow visitors to search results pages to save their searches using the search agent capabilities provided by some embodiments of the invention.

The search system 118 comprises the back end components of the remote search 108. For example, the search system 118 includes indices, databases, site lists, subscriber user interface data, spider processes, and/or database engines. Spider processes are processes for working with portions of web sites, e.g. pages. Spiders are also sometimes called crawlers. As used herein, the term spiders refers to the various processes used by the search system 118 to retrieve, index, and/or process web sites. Additionally, the search system 118 supports the search agent capabilities provided by some embodiments of the invention.

The search system 118 is described more fully in connection with Figures 10 and 11. In some embodiments, multiple levels of service are offered by the remote search 108. In one embodiment, a free advertising based level of service and a subscription level of service are offered. In some embodiments, with the free advertising based level of service, subscribers such as the subscriber 100 pay no fees, but their search form page and/or search results page may include advertising. In some embodiments, with the subscription level of service, subscribers such as the subscriber 100 pay a fee, e.g. $300/year, to receive the search feature and no advertising is shown. According to some embodiments, if the subscriber 100 does not pay initially, or when it is time to renew their subscription level of service, the system can automatically revert, or degrade, to the advertising subscription by interesting advertising rather than disconnecting the search feature.

This degradation can also be used in the provision of other types of services over the Internet with multiple levels of services. For example, this could be extended to Internet chat services, bulletin board services, web provided services, and/or other services provided over the Internet.

This provides a number of advantages for the subscriber over previous systems. The subscriber will be able to verify that her/his web site has been fully indexed. The subscriber is not required to create the search form manually, but rather simply inserts the search code in web pages on the web site to enable the remote search 108.

The process for signing a web site up for the remote search 108 will now be described. Then, the process for visitors to use the remote search 108 will be described.

B. Subscriber Setup

Figure 2 is a process flow diagram for subscribing a web site to the local search according to some embodiments of the invention. This could be used by the remote search 108 to allow subscribers (e.g. the subscriber 100) to request the search service for their web sites. Figures 3-6 are used to illustrate the subscriber sign up process according to the process of Figure 2.

First, at step 202, the subscriber 100 signs up for the search service using the subscriber UI 114. In some embodiments, the subscriber UI 114 presents a fill out HTML form over the World Wide Web to the subscriber 100. In this example, Figure 3 shows the main page of the web site of the subscriber 100, the web page 112 A. The web site in this example is a homeowners association web site at <http://www.ventanadelmar.org/>. At present, the web site as shown in Figure 3 lacks a search capability. Figure 4 shows the web site entrance to the subscriber UI 114. Existing subscribers can enter by using their subscriber information in area 400 and new subscribers such as the subscriber 100 can enter through the sign up link 402. The features and functions available to existing subscribers are discussed in greater detail below.

In this example, the subscriber clicks on the sign up link 402 and is presented with a fill out HTML form shown in Figure 5 to subscribe to the search function. The form 500 includes a number of questions that provide the remote search 108 the information to sign up the subscriber and identify the web site. The subscriber 100 is asked provide her/his electronic mail address in form area 502, select a password in form area 504, and identify their web site in form area 506. Here, the subscriber would provide the address "vdm@ventanadelmar.org" in form area 502, a password in form area 504, and the uniform resource indicator (URI) for the web site in form area 506 (e.g. "http://www.ventanadelmar.org/"). In some embodiments, the subscriber is offered a selection of service levels. In this example, the form area 508 allows the subscriber 100 to select between a free service and a paid service. If the subscriber 100 selects the paid service, she/he can be prompted to provide additional payment information on a separate fill out form.

In some embodiments, two additional questions are asked. One question concerns whether or not the web site includes adult content. This allows the remote search 108 to ensure that adult related advertising is not provided to non-adult sites. Another question asked by some embodiments of the invention is whether or not the subscriber 100 has the authority to request the search function for the web site. This is asked to assure that the person subscribing the web site has the authority to grant permission to index the site for intellectual property reasons, e.g. copyright and trademark restrictions. Still other embodiments, may ask additional questions. For example, the web site may be categorized by the user. This could be used to distinguish between commercial, non-profit, and private sites as well as identify the topic of the site, e.g. "Finances". Advertising preferences may be available, e.g. to allow the user to select different types or categories of ads. Other marketing and demographic questions might also be asked. All of these questions serve several purposes. One purpose is to help the provider of the remote search better understand the subscribers. Another purpose is to help the subscribers and the remote search 108 select the best advertising for the site when the free service is used. Returning to Figure 2, the process can operate in parallel. The remote search 108 will begin to index the web site at step 204. This is discussed in greater detail in conjunction with Figure 11.

Meanwhile, the subscriber 100 can be provided with search code to link to the remote search 108 at step 206. Table 1 includes representative examples of HTML versions of the search code for inclusion on the web site of the subscriber 100. This makes adding search capabilities to a web site as simple as adding a link in HTML.

Figure imgf000012_0001

Table 1

In some embodiments, the search code is provided as part of an electronic mail message to the subscriber 100 with instructions for adding the search code to a web page. In other embodiments, a revised version of the home page, e.g. the web page 112 A, is provided to the subscriber by electronic mail with the search code included. Other embodiments use other techniques for communicating the link (e.g. posting it on the remote search 108).

The electronic mail message with the search code may contain hypertext links to instructions for including the search code on a web page (e.g. the web pages 112A-B). Once, the search code is included on the web page (e.g. the web page

112A) and the modified web page is uploaded to the service provider 102, the web site is search enabled. Figure 6 shows the web site of the subscriber 100 after it is search enabled with search such as by search button 600 to a search form page. Finally, at step 208, the subscriber 100 can modify the appearance of the search form page and the search results page to better match the style and look of her/his web site. This can also be directly accessed through the subscriber UI 114 when a subscriber (e.g. the subscriber 100) provides her/his information in area 400. Typical options for customizing the appearance of the search form page and search results page include: specifying a title, options for providing the URI of a banner image, options for providing the URI of a logo image, options for selecting colors for page elements, options for providing the URI of a background image, and/or other options. These options allow the subscriber 100 to blend the appearance of the pages provided by the search UI 116 to visitors to match the appearance of the web site. In some embodiments, colors for the search form page and search results page are automatically selected based on color selections in the home page of the web site of the subscriber 100. For example, if the subscriber has a black background with yellow text on her/his home page, then the remote search could automatically provide those colors as a default option for the subscriber 100.

In some embodiments, the subscriber 100 can select from several different layouts for the search form and search results. In other embodiments, the subscriber 100 can design a custom layout for the search form and the search results. These layouts can control which elements appear on the search form and the search results and where those elements appear. The customization process can be performed using the subscriber UI 114.

Templates

Some embodiments of the invention allow subscribers to design customized templates for the display of search results and/or the search form. For example, the subscriber 100, could design an HTML page using her/his preferred HTML authoring tool. In the HTML page, the subscriber 100 could include a predetermined string, e.g. "results list here", "search form here", "<RESULTS>", "<SEARCHFORM>", etc. The subscriber 100 could then provide this HTML page to the remote search for use as the search results page and/or the search form page. In these configurations, the template HTML pages can be stored with the service provider 102, the remote search 108, and/or a combination of the two. For example, the subscriber 100 might indicate the URI for the search result template at the service provider 102, but the remote search 108 might cache a copy of the template for more rapid use. Handling Multiple Related Sites

In some embodiments of the invention, multiple URIs can be provided by a subscriber when signing up a web site. This may be useful to allow the remote search to span several logically related sites operated by a subscriber. For example, WidgetCo may have a site for the United States,

<http://www.widgetcousa.com/> and a separate site for ordering parts <http ://www. widgetcoparts . com/> .

Alternatively, if the two sites are independently administered, the subscriber 100 can sign them up as separate web sites. Then, using options described below, the subscriber 100 can group the separate web sites into a logical group. The subscriber 100 can then specify options for controlling the default search scope and, if desired, the default search agent scope. This approach may be more flexible for subscribers since it allows visitors to search the site they are visiting separately from searching related sites. Thus, visitors to the WidgetCo corporate web site will not see results from the parts web sites and vice-versa unless they expand the search scope on the search form or when configuring their search agent.

Additionally, some embodiments of the invention allow a subscriber, (e.g. the subscriber 100) to easily invite other web sites to be included in a group of searchable sites. For example, the subscriber 100, could indicate electronic mail addresses for several related sites and electronic mail invitations could be sent to those parties inviting them to join a searchable group of sites, e.g. "Cool Star Trek Fan Sites". This allows for rapid construction of searchable groups of related sites as defined by the subscriber 100.

Community Search

Other embodiments of the invention allow a subscriber (e.g. the subscriber 100) to quickly set up a community search. In these embodiments of the invention, a number of URIs indicating web sites to index can be provided to the remote search 108. For example, the subscriber 100 might be a web master for a home page provider with web sites created by users. The subscriber 100 could designate all of the web sites for inclusion in a community search, e.g. a search of all of the web sites on the list managed by the subscriber 100, e.g. the "Science Fiction Community" at HomePageProvider.com. Embodiments of the invention may be configurable by the subscriber to do a shallow site index, e.g. only go one to two pages deep per site. This helps serve the purpose of allowing the community search to be a good finding tool for interesting sites within the community while balancing against including too much detail from each site.

C. Subscriber Options

Once subscribed, the subscriber UI 114 also provides several options to subscribers (e.g. the subscriber 100) for managing the search functionality.

Status information informs the subscriber 100 about when her/his web site was last indexed and/or other information, e.g. when it will next be indexed, how many pages were in the site, etc. Maintenance options allow the subscriber 100 to manually request that her/his web site be re-indexed. The subscriber 100 can update the appearance options for her/his search form page and search results page at any time as well.

A number of reporting options are available that provide important information to the subscriber 100. In some embodiments, the subscriber 100 can request a list of the most popular searches for a given time period, e.g. last month, last quarter, etc. This lets the subscriber 100 understand what visitors (e.g. the visitors 104A-B) are interested in finding on her/his web site and/or what the visitors are having difficulty finding on her/his web site. For example, if "driving directions" is the most common search, the subscriber 100 could modify her/his web site to make links to driving directions more prominent. Other embodiments of the invention provide reports on the most frequent users of the search function in a given time period. This allows the subscriber 100 to understand who is searching their web site, e.g. users from America Online™.

Another type of report provided by some embodiments of the invention is a summary of searches that returned no results. This allows the subscriber 100 to better understand what visitors were looking for and perhaps modify web pages or extend her/his web site to include the information. For example, if visitors were frequently searching for "prices", the subscriber 100 could extend her/his web site to include the basic pricing for her/his services.

In some embodiments, there are additional reporting options available to subscribers. For example, one embodiment of the invention allows subscribers to access the raw search data comprised of search terms and result information. Still other embodiments allow statistics from the remote search 108 to be viewed on a web page at a subscriber's web site. Also, some embodiments, provide click thru information to the subscriber. Click thru information tells the subscriber which pages in the results were most often clicked on by visitors. Additionally, some embodiments of the invention include more detailed information in the reports, sometimes using a drill down format to access the information, including: most frequently selected web pages for all searches with drill down to searches that produced those web pages; selected web pages for particular searches, e.g. by drill down from a list of searches; how many different documents were viewed for particular searches in rank order, e.g. by drill down from a list of searches; how many seconds it took visitors to select documents from the search results; and/or other reporting options. The amount of time visitors take to select search results may provide a good indication as to whether the results are confusing visitors, e.g. not specific enough, or are returning documents of high interest.

Search Agent, or Search Profiling. Features

Some embodiments of the invention support remote hosted search profiling, or search agents, for visitors (e.g. the visitor 104A) of web sites. A subscriber (e.g. the subscriber 100) can be offered a number of customizations relating to the search agents.

Some embodiments of the invention may allow the subscriber to specify default options for one or more search agent features and options. See below for a list of some features and options.

In some embodiments, subscribers (e.g. the subscriber 100) may select default groupings into which the web site falls. These groups may be subscriber created and/or provided by the remote search 108. In some embodiments, the subscriber can set a default search scope for agents, e.g. all sites in group. Also, in some embodiments, a subscriber (e.g. the subscriber) could offer the search agent features only. In these embodiments, the search agent could be remotely hosted by the remote search 108 while the search functionality was offered by one or more other search engines. For example, a corporation using a local search engine, e.g.

InfoSeek(TM), could request provision of search agent capabilities from the remote search 108. In these configurations, the saved agents may access the local search engine using one or more interfaces. For example, the remotely hosted agents might receive results from the local search engine in extensible markup language (XML) and/or some other data interchange format. The remote search agent could then analyze the results and provide the notification and delivery options generally available.

Additionally, various reporting options may be available either for free - or for a price - to subscribers based on the use of search agents by visitors. For example, the reports might include what searches are being saved by visitors; who those visitors are, e.g. their electronic mail addresses and/or other personal identifying information; what other types of searches have those visitors saved; and/or other reporting options.

Similarly, embodiments of the invention may either for free, or for a fee, offer subscribers (e.g. the subscriber 100) the ability to send electronic mail messages to visitors of her/his site who have saved agents. This increases the value of the remote search since it offers an avenue for subscribers (e.g. the subscriber 100) to come into direct communication with visitors who are most interested in her/his site, e.g. those who have saved agents. Further, it does not involve any overhead, or registration, at the subscriber's web site.

P. Searching the Web Site

Figure 7 is a process flow diagram for searching a web site according some embodiments of the invention. This could be used by visitors (e.g. the visitors 104A-B) to search the web site of the subscriber 100. First, at step 700, a visitor (e.g. the visitor 104A) of the web site of the subscriber 100 selects the search button on a web page (e.g. the web page 112A). For example, the visitor 104A could click on the search button 600 of Figure 6.

Next, at step 702, the remote search 108 provides a search form page via the search UI 116. For example, the search form page might look like the search form page of Figure 8. This could be the search page reached when a visitor clicks on a link provided by the search code such as the search button 600. In this example, the search form page includes a logo 804 selected by the subscriber 100 and a subscriber selected title 806, e.g. "Search Page".

Next, at step 704, the visitor 104A enters her/his search terms into the search form page. For example, the user could type "gondola" into the area 800 and signal on the search button 802. Additional options can be provided to allow for help with searching and using more advanced search techniques, e.g. using date ranges, changing sort orders, and/or other options. In this example, the free service of the remote search 108 is shown in Figure 8. As such, advertising appears on the search form page. Using the paid service, the advertising above the logo 804 would be omitted and/or replaced with subscriber selected advertising.

The search terms can actually be more complex than keywords, visitors can search for documents modified since a specific date and/or construct boolean search expressions. In some embodiments, the search code includes a hyperlink to a "What's New" query that could be displayed along side the search button 600. When the hyperlink for the "What's New" query is selected, the remote search 108 can display all documents modified since a predetermined period, e.g. 30 days, etc. In some embodiments, the predetermined period is selected by the subscriber.

Returning to Figure 7, at step 706, the remote search 108 provides the search results page to the visitor. The search results page includes hyperlinks to pages containing the search terms the visitor can click on. When the visitor clicks on the hyperlink, the visitor will be shown the corresponding page. In some embodiments, the visitor can enter a new search directly into the search results page.

For example, the search for "gondola" resulted in the search results page shown in Figure 9. Again, the subscriber provided logo 804 and title 806 can appear. The results can appear in context using one entry (e.g. the entry 900) for each matching page. A score 902 may be shown for each document to indicate how highly the document ranked relative to others with the search terms. Additionally, the HTML title of the document may be shown as a link to the document 904. A description 906 of the document may follow along with an indication of the date the document was last modified 908. Area 910 allows a visitor to submit an additional search directly from the search results page. If appropriate, advertising may appear on the search results page.

E. Establishing an Agent

Returning to Figure 9, an area 1200 can be provided to allow visitors to invoke the search agent capabilities. In this example, the area 1200 is shown with an area 1202 to receive the visitor's electronic mail address and a save button 1204 to cause the search to be saved.

The amount of textual description provided within the area 1200 can be increased or decreased, for example, the text might read "Save this search for <search terms>:" One or more hyperlinks could be provided to allow the user to receive more information about the search agent capabilities, e.g. "Learn More" link that opens an additional browser window.

In some embodiments of the invention, if the visitor's electronic mail address is already known, e.g. through a cookie, previous identification, and or other means, in that case, the area 1202 can be omitted.

In this example, the visitor provides her electronic mail address in area 1202 as "jdoe@example.com" and clicks on the save button 1204. At that point a new agent is created for that user with that set of search terms for the web site of the subscriber 100.

The area 1200 can be replaced with a visual indication that the search result has been saved. Additionally, one or more hyperlinks to allow a visitor to customize all of her/his agents and/or the most recently created agent can be provided in the replacement visual indication. In other embodiments, the user can be brought to a different web page including options for the agent and/or the search results. Different embodiments of the invention may include additional controls in the area 1200, e.g. agent scope controls, controls for frequency of updates, password entry fields, etc. Some of these options will be described more fully below. Additionally some embodiments of the invention may use behavioral profiling with automatic saved searches as described more fully below.

Another approach to defining agents supported by some embodiments of the invention is a topical approach. According to this approach, visitors can establish agents by selecting one or more topics from a predefined list of topics. Then, the visitor can refine the agent by adding search terms, e.g. key words, changing the scope of the search, and/or other options.

F. Agent Options

As described above, an agent can be saved by visitors to the web site, e.g. the web site operated by the subscriber 100. Once saved, the agent will provide the search agent capability to visitors by periodically sending the visitors one or more electronic mail messages. The process of creating an agent is designed to minimize the amount of input and decision making to create an agent. For this reason, predetermined settings are initially associated with each agent when it is created.

As a result, a web interface can be provided to allow visitors to adjust their agents, e.g. by having the visitor log into the remote search 108 using a web browser, or other access program. Through the search agent UI 120, the visitor can identify herself/himself to the remote search 108 and adjust options relating to her/his saved agents.

In some embodiments, when a visitor saves her/his first search, they can be mailed an introductory electronic mail message by the remote search 108. The electronic mail message can include an initial password. This password may be used by the remote search to identify the user. Alternatively, other means can be used to identify the user.

Table 2 summarizes options available in some embodiments of the invention to visitors to adjust the performance of their agents using the search agent UI 120. Different embodiments of the invention may include various combinations of these options.

Figure imgf000021_0001
Table 2

Additionally, some embodiments of the invention allow a visitor to associate one or more comments with agents. A more detailed discussion of some of the options now follows.

1. Scope of Agent

In addition to the ability of a visitor's agents to provide information about a single site, it may be desirable to allow for agents that are also able to search multiple web sites. This may make sense in a number of instances. For example, a single corporation may have several distinct web sites, e.g. main corporate web site, an web site for product line A, and another web site for product line B. If a subscriber (e.g. the subscriber 100) for the corporation signs up the three web sites separately, it may be desirable to provide a way for visitors to search and/or search profile all of the web sites together.

In this instance, if the web sites are grouped into a logical group, e.g. "Company X's Websites", then visitors can select the scope of their agent to be the group rather than only the particular web site they were viewing, e.g. the web site for product line B.

In some embodiments of the invention, the area 1200 (see Fig 9) includes a control to allow visitors to set the scope of the agent at the time of its creation. For example, a pop-up option list could be used including choices of "This Site Only", "All Company X Websites", etc.

Most generally, the logical groups may be defined in a number of fashions. The groups can be defined by subscribers; by third parties, e.g. the operator of the remote search 108 and/or an independent editor who selects related web sites for group searching and search agent capabilities; and/or by the visitors who can define their own logical groupings.

Four scopes offered to subscribers by some embodiments of the invention include: (1) sub-portion of the subscriber's web site; (2) the subscriber's web site; (3) logical group search both the subscriber's web site and a group of other web sites; and (4) web search — search both the subscriber's web site and combine those results with a search of the whole web. In the case of a web search, a web search engine, e.g. Altavista(TM), Google(TM), etc., can be used to obtain results for the web portion of the search. Alternatively, the provided of the remote hosted search agent can maintain an index of the web as a whole. These four scoping options can allow the subscriber (e.g. the subscriber 100) to select her/his prefered search and/or search agent scope for visitors (e.g. the visitors 104A-B). Irrespective of the particular option selected by the subscriber for her/his web site — or the visitor for a particular search/search agent — a unified view of the search results from all searched web site(s), or portions thereof, can be presented. The scoping features may be extended to allow inclusion of non-web data sources, e.g. a database, news feed, etc., in the scope of a search and/or search agent. In those instances, embodiments of the invention may perform appropriate translations of the saved search to execute the search on the other data sources and/or other search engines. The results can then be integrated into reports. For example, a saved search about "Hawaii" might be run against weather data sources, travel data sources, news feeds and/or other data sources. Accordingly, the results may include a weather report, flight schedules, flight prices, and news. These results can be separately grouped from the particular site's results, e.g. main heading "Hawaii Search ofAHHawaii.com" with a sub- heading "Related Information from Other Sites".

In some embodiments, the saved searches may be translated into one or more extensible markup language (XML) format for automatic execution by the other data sources, with results received back in an XML format.

In some embodiments of the invention, the search activity of agents can be included in subscriber search logs. Thus, a subscriber (e.g. the subscriber 100) might see reports that included the activities of search agents, including those that searched her/his site as part of a group of sites. In some embodiments of the invention, the subscriber can request exclusion of search agent searches from reports.

2. Behavioral Profiling

Behavioral profiling reflects the idea that users interests can be determined to some degree based on their searching behaviors. Accordingly, the users saved searches as well as un-saved searches can be used to identify content the user is likely to find interesting. In some embodiments, all searches performed by a given visitor are saved, or recorded, for behavioral profiling, and those searches the visitor explicitly saves — according to the procedure described above — are marked to indicate a stronger preference.

This approach can be used to allow embodiments of the invention to predict visitor interests, e.g. to select banner advertisements, to integrate with a third party provider's services, etc. For example, some embodiments of the invention may provide the behavioral profiling information, e.g. search history for a visitor, to a third party to allow the third party to make special offers targeted to the visitor's interests.

In some embodiments of the invention, search reports may be automatically mailed to a visitor based on all of her/his searches. In this configuration, a particularly high relevancy threshold may be used together with grouping of all non-explicitly save searches into a single category, e.g. "Other Links Relating to Your Past Searches".

2. Notification and Delivery Options

In some embodiments of the invention, a single electronic mail message is used to present all search agent results to a visitor. This allows a single electronic mail message to include all of the updated results from all of a visitor's agents. This behavior can then be further modified as described below.

In some embodiments of the invention, the electronic mail messages include one or more advertisements. In some embodiments of the invention, the electronic mail messages are formatted using HTML. In some embodiments, the electronic mail messages are formatted using XML.

In some embodiments of the invention, an excerpt from the search result found by the agent is included in the electronic mail message. In some embodiments of the invention, a relevancy ranking for each result is included with the electronic mail message. In some embodiments of the invention, the results are grouped on a per agent basis with a lead in description for the message as well as each agent. For example, the start of the message might summarize the results: "Hi John, you have 10 agents, 5 found new results this week for a total of 20 results. The results are listed below. To adjust your agent options, go to <http://www.remotesearch.com/?visitor=12345>." Other suitable summary introductions may be used. Similarly, the results for each agent can be summarized: "Results for Star Trek Agent: Five results were found for Star Trek". In some embodiments of the invention, one or more visual indications such as graphs, charts, and/or pictures, may be used to summarize the results.

A number of other notification options are available. Further, while the above options might be the "system wide" default for new visitors, each visitor can adjust the default presentment options for herself/himself. In some embodiments of the invention, the remote search 108 provides a single electronic mail message with results from all agents for a visitor. In some embodiments, the visitor can group agents into logical groups are request separate messages for each group, or particular agents. The remote search 108 can include advertisements in the electronic mail messages. These messages can be targeted based on the keywords associated with particular agents and/or the category of site which the agent is searching. Additionally, information about the visitor such as demographic and psychographic profiles can be used to further select advertisements. Other notification and delivery options allow the visitor to control the frequency with which they receive updates from the agents. For example, a visitor might only want updates once a week. However, for one particular agent, they might want daily updates. In some embodiments, the visitor can also set a default frequency for all agents and/or all new agents. The visitor can also select the manner of notification in some embodiments of the invention. Thus, instead of- or in addition to - receiving an electronic mail message, a page could be sent, a summary could be sent to a PDA.

Still other embodiments of the invention may use a mixture of facsimiles and web page accesses. For example, a one page facsimile with hit summaries — and targeted advertising — could be sent to a visitor. The visitor (e.g. the visitor 104 A) would then log on to the remote search 108 to see the results in greater detail. Some embodiments of the invention include URIs to the original matching content in notification electronic mails. Other embodiments may also include links to modified, cached, or otherwise marked up versions of the matching content. Still other embodiments may include a number of options, e.g. "Animals of the Serengeti [Summary] [Cached] [Original] [Find

Related]..." Each of the four options to the left of the title could be a URI to an appropriate page for presenting a summary of the matching content, viewing a cached (and possibly marked up version) of the matching content, going to the original site, and locating related items, respectively. This approach allows visitors great flexibility in reviewing their search results. Embodiments of the invention may include keyword highlighting, e.g. with colors, fonts, etc., to help the visitor identify the portions of a document that matched their saved agent

Cross-Agent Hit Handling

Some embodiments of the invention recognize cross-agent hits for a document. For example, if a visitor (e.g. the visitor 104A) has the following search agents (1) Hawaii and (2) surfing saved, if a document (e.g. the web page 112 A) is matched by both agents, that document may be treated specially in the notification.

Some embodiments of the invention increase the rank of a document that matches multiple agents so that it appears higher in the list of results. Some embodiments of the invention, list documents that match multiple agents in a separate category near the top of the notification, e.g. "Top Hits - These Match Several of Your Interests", if desired the document can be mentioned again in the section for that specific agent. Other embodiments, have special handling as the number of matches increases. For example, one embodiment of the invention might automatically send you a copy of the document, e.g. by facsimile or electronic mail, if it matches three or more agents. As appropriate, the treatment cross-agent matches can be customized by the visitor to meet her/his preferences. Incorporating Feedback

Embodiments of the invention may allow visitors to provide feedback on the returned search results. This may allow users to indicate on a per-result basis their interest in a document, e.g. "no relevant", "relevant", "this passage is particularly relevant", "new agent for highlighted passage", etc. An appropriate browser plug-in, Java(TM) application, and/or Javascript(TM) can be provided to implement these features. This will allow the system to dynamically adjust agents based on the feedback. For example, if a visitor highlights a passage as particularly relevant, additional keywords might be added to the saved agent for use in relevancy ranking of results.

Other options may include the ability to easily save a page, bookmark a page, and/or send the page somewhere, e.g. electronic mail, printer, facsimile, etc. These options may allow a visitor to quickly review the results she/he previously saved from a single agent for later reference.

G. Remote Search System Setup

Figure 10 illustrates a back end system used by some embodiments of the invention. This could be used to provide a highly distributed implementation of the remote search 108.

In this embodiment, subscribers (e.g. the subscriber 100), visitors (e.g. the visitor 104A), and server administrators (e.g. the administrator 1000) access the remote search 108 through a director 1002. The director 1002 might include an IP traffic director such as the Cisco DistributedDirector, from Cisco Systems, Inc., San Jose, California. This provides traffic distribution between geographically disperse sites. This allows the remote search 108 to be geographically distributed with automatic load balancing.

Then additional local directors 1004-1008 may be used to further distribute the different functions of the remote search 108. A Cisco LocalDirector, from Cisco Systems, Inc., San Jose California, may be used as the local directors 1004-1008. Within a particular geographic subsystem of the remote search 108, the local directors 1004-1008 balance loads across servers performing the same tasks. The local director 1004 balances loads across the computers providing the subscriber UI 114. The local director 1006 balances loads across the computers providing the search UI 116A-C and the search agent UI 120A-C. The local director 1008 balances loads across the computer providing an administrator UI 1010 to the remote search 108. The distributed local subsystems are coupled to the search system 118. The local directors 1004-1008 also provide fail-over capabilities.

According to some embodiments of the invention, each search UI 116A- C providing live searching to visitors has a local copy of the current index 1018 separate from the search system 118. This improves performance and reliability. For example, two of the search UI 116A-C can be providing active searches while another is being loaded with the most current indices. Once the new indices are verified, the inactive search UI can be brought active with the new indices. Then, one of the other search UIs can be made inactive. Some embodiments of the invention do not include either the director

1002 or the local directors 1004-1008, others include only some of the local directors 1004-1008, based on what sort of load balancing features are desired by the operator of the remote search 108.

The search system 118 includes spiders and database engines 1022. The search system 118 also includes user interface data 1014, sites 1016, a database 1020, and an index 1018. Additionally, a file system such as the file system 1024 may be coupled to the search system 118. The file system 1024 can be used to store web pages and other information for the remote search 108. The file system 1024 can be accessed by the subscriber UI 114, the search UI 116A- C, the search agent UI 120A-C, and the administrator UI 1010 as appropriate. Also, in some embodiments, the search system 118 includes the agents 1026 that have been saved by visitors (e.g. the visitor 104A). The search system 118 can execute the agents 1026 as appropriate and send appropriate notifications of new results. The UI data 1014 includes the appearance customization provided by subscribers (e.g. the subscriber 100) and is used by the search UI 116A-C to generate the search form page and search results page according to subscriber preferences. In some embodiments, the UI data 1014 is stored in a database such as the database 1020. In other embodiments it is kept in a separate location.

The sites 1016 is list of the sites to be indexed. In some embodiments, the sites 1016 is included as a table within the database 1020. In other embodiments, the sites 1016 are kept in a separate location. In some embodiments, the sites 1016 includes a list of uniform resource indicators (URIs) for sites that are indexed. The sites 1016 may also include other information such as type of content, contact information, meta-data about the web site, subscription information including payment information, and/or other information. For example, the site 1100 A might correspond to the homeowners association web site and include the URI of the web site: "http ://www. ventanadelmar.org" .

The index 1018 is an index of web pages. Each index 1018 can include the search results for multiple web sites in the sites 1016. After the index 1018 is updated and verified, it can be transferred to one of the computers servings as the search UI 116A-C. This provides a high degree of reliability and reduces contention for access to the index 1018 because only the spiders in the search system 118 directly access the index 1018. The search UI 116A-C can access distinct copies. The database 1020 is used to maintain state information by the various spiders. This supports a highly parallel and highly distributed process for indexing subscriber web sites as described in conjunction with Figure 11. The database engines allow the spiders to access the database 1020 as needed. In a typical embodiment, an SQL database is used as the database 1020.

H. Remote Search System Indexing Process

Figure 11 is a process flow diagram for indexing a web site according to some embodiments of the invention. The process is designed to be highly distributed and thus be capable of operating in a highly parallel fashion as well. Each of the steps can occur simultaneously on appropriate data. Thus, while the dispatcher spider 1102 is operating on the sites 1016, the index spider 1114 can be adding to the index 1018. For clarity, the process will be described from start to finish for a single web page on a single web site. The dispatcher spider 1102 reads the address of a web site from the sites 1016, e.g. the site 1100A. The dispatcher then adds the appropriate pages to the database 1020 in the page table. For example, consider how the dispatcher might operate on the site 1100A, "http://www.ventanadelmar.org/". The first step might be to add pages 1101 A-C to the database 1020 for standard web page locations, e.g. variations of "index.html", "index.shtml", "defaul htm", etc. So for example, the page 1101 A might be

"http://www.ventanadelmar.org/index.html". Other embodiments of the invention first add the site URI, e.g. "http://www.ventanadelmar.org/" as a page, e.g. the page 1101 A. If the web site does not automatically provide the default page, then the technique described above of adding default page names to the site URI can be used.

The frequency with which a particular web site, e.g. the site 1100C, is re-indexed may depend on system rules, e.g. once every twenty-four hours automatically, and subscriber requests, e.g. index my web site now.

The pre-filter spider 1104 verifies that the page (e.g. 1101 A) should be indexed by testing the page against some rules. Typical rules may include limiting the index to pages no more than n levels of links deep and limiting the index to pages within the same web tree, e.g. within the "www.ventanadelmar.org/" web space.

Also, if available, a "robots.txt", or equivalent file, for robots associated with the web site can be considered at the pre-filtering stage. The robots.txt file is used as part of the robot exclusion standard for describing the pages that should not be indexed by spiders and search engines. Also, the pre-filter spider 1104 may use certain rules based on the multi-purpose Internet mail extensions (MIME) type of a page (e.g. the page 1101 A) and/or the file extension (e.g. ".html"). Pages that should be indexed can be flagged in the database for the retrieve head spider 1106.

The retrieve head spider 1106 retrieves the header portion of web pages marked for indexing in the database 1020. Here, the retrieve head spider 1106 is retrieving the web page 112A from the service provider 102. The header can be retrieved separately from the body to save bandwidth and processing time. The header information can be stored in the database 1020 for access by the post-filter spider 1108.

The post-filter spider 1108 analyzes the header information to further determine if the document should be indexed, or re-indexed. For example, if the last modified date has not changed from the date of the document as it currently appears in the index, then the web page can be skipped. Otherwise, the page is marked in the database for retrieval. Other rules can exclude certain types of documents, e.g. image files, or certain types of documents, e.g. documents under 1 kB. The retrieve body spider 1110 retrieves the web pages marked by the post-filter spider 1108. Here, the retrieve body spider 1110 retrieves the body of the web page 112A from the service provider 102. The body can be stored in the database 1020 or a queue pending further processing.

The analyzer spider 1112 analyzes the retrieved web pages. Additional pages may be added to the database 1020 as a result of the analysis. The analyzer spider 1112 can also extract the title of the page and generate a checksum for the contents. If the checksum is computed based on a normalized version of the retrieved page, the checksum will remain constant irrespective of minor changes to advertising banners, etc. This allows an additional determination to be made as to whether or not the web page has changed and should be re-indexed. Additionally, the analyzer spider 1112 can identify hyperlinks to new documents and add those documents to the pages 1101 A-C for processing by the spiders.

As appropriate, a META tag corresponding to directives for robots for each web page can be used to control the analysis process. For example,

<META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW">, in the body of a web page might be used to direct the analyzer spider 1112 to not mark the web page for indexing by the indexer spider 1114. Also, because "NOFOLLOW" is indicated, this might direct the analyzer spider 1112 not to add additional web pages to the pages 1101 A-C for hyperlinks in the web page. The indexer spider 1114 indexes the body content from the queue and indexes it in the index 1018. Periodically, once a sweep through the sites 1100 A-C is completed, the index 1018 is rolled out to the search UI 116 once the index has been verified. This is used by some embodiments of the invention to ensure high availability of the indexes by reducing contention between spidering processes and visitor searches.

I. Search Agent Processes

The search system 118 can include one or more processes for providing agent functionality. In some embodiments, each of the agents in the agents 1026 is run automatically according to the settings associated with the agents. At each run, the agents can request search results according to the saved search profile, e.g. keywords and or other settings. The search results can be compared with results from earlier runs and new and updated items identified.

The identified can then be appropriately treated based on settings associated with the agent. For example, items below a certain relevancy score could be discarded. Items matching other criteria could be sent out immediately. Other items could be queued for inclusion in a summary message including composite results from multiple agents.

At the time the items are sent to the user, appropriate advertising can be included. The advertising may be targeted based on information about the recipient as well as the agent itself. For example, agents relating to sports terms might cause the selection of sports related advertising. Additionally, specific information about the user, e.g. perhaps their zip code, might be used to select specific ads within the broader category. Still other approaches to advertisement selection are possible. In some embodiments, advertisements are omitted for subscribers who pay a fee for the search agent service.

J. Alternative Embodiments

In some embodiments, collections of data other than web sites are indexed. For example, an electronic collection of documents stored on a file system could be indexed by some embodiments of the invention. Also, indexes could be generated for net news articles, electronic mail archives, and/or the contents of a database. Most generally, any electronic data collection could be remotely searched using embodiments of the current invention.

In some embodiments, the HTTP referrer field is used by the remote search 108 to match the search service with the search site. For example, in some embodiments, the refeπer field is used as secondary confirmation that the site id requested matches the referring site. For example, if "http://www.example.com/" is indexed by the remote search with id 12345 and "http://www.company.com " is indexed with id 12346, then the refeπer field could act as a double check on the site id. For example, if the subscriber at "http://www.example.com/" modifies the search code so that the id 12346 is references, then the remote search code respond with a configuration error if the refeπer and the site id do not match. Here, the id 12346 goes with refeπers from "http://www.company.com " so visitors from "http://www.example.com " would see an eπor message. In other embodiments, the refeπer would override the provided site id and the search form for "http://www.example.com/" would be provided.

In some embodiments, the web browser itself could be used as the search form. For example, the search code could be a reference to a plug-in and/or a Java applet that provides the search form. Other embodiments, allow the location area of the web browser to be used as the search form, e.g. instead of typing a URI in the location a visitor types her/his search terms and presses enter after clicking on a link provided by the search code.

In some embodiments, the remote search 108 is included in one or more computer usable media such as CD-ROMs, floppy disks, a hard disk installed on a computer and/or other media.

Some embodiments of the invention are included in an electromagnetic wave form. The electromagnetic wave form comprises information such as the remote search 108 and/or the search code. For example, the subscriber UI 114 might be accessed by a subscriber 100 over a network.

K. Conclusion

The foregoing description of various embodiments of the invention has been presented for purposes of illustration and description. It is not intended to limit the invention to the precise forms disclosed. Many modifications and equivalent aπangements will be apparent.

Claims

CLAIMSWhat is claimed is:
1. A method of providing a remotely hosted search agent capability using a computer, the remotely hosted search agent capability for a plurality of web sites hosted on a plurality of computers, the method comprising: inserting into a search results relating to a search of a web site in the plurality of web sites a save search command using the computer, the save search command for sending a signal to the computer requesting that the search be saved; responsive to receiving a signal from the save search command on the computer, saving the search as a search agent; automatically executing the search agent on the web site; and reporting on new search results responsive to the executing.
2. The method of claim 1 , wherein the search agent associated with a contact method, the search agent comprises a plurality of search agents, each of the plurality of search agents capable of being independently executed, each of the plurality of search agents coπesponding to a respective search of a respective web site, the reporting comprising providing a single notification via the contact method with new search results from at least two of the plurality of search agents responsive to executing.
3. The method of claim 2, further comprising including in the single notification at least one advertisement selected based on the respective search for one of the at least two of the plurality search agents.
4. The method of claim 1 , further comprising: receiving a request on the computer, the request coπesponding to a request for a report on search agent activity for the web site; responding to the request with a report on search agents for the web site.
5. The method of claim 1, wherein the reporting comprises excluding new search results falling below a predetermined threshold.
6. The method of claim 1 wherein the web site comprises at least two of the plurality web sites.
7. The method of claim 1 further comprising providing a remotely hosted search of the web site to generate the search results using the computer.
8. The method of claim 1 further wherein the search results are generated on a second computer, and wherein the second computer operated by a different legal entity from the first computer.
9. The method of claim 1 , wherein the signal includes an electronic mail address, and wherein the reporting further comprises sending an electronic mail message to the electronic mail address.
10. The method of claim 1, wherein the signal identifies an electronic mail address, and wherein the reporting further comprises sending an electronic mail message to the electronic mail address.
11. The method of claim 1 , wherein the search comprises a key word search.
12. A method of placing advertisements in an electronic mail message, the electronic mail message comprising a report of new search results by one or more search agents, the one or more search agents each having a coπesponding search, the method comprising selecting at least one advertisement for inclusion in the electronic mail message according to at least one of the coπesponding searches for the one or more search agents.
13. The method of claim 12, wherein each of the coπesponding searches includes one or more coπesponding key words, and wherein the selecting further comprises identifying the advertisement from a plurality of advertisements, each advertisement in the plurality of advertisements associated with one or more key words, the advertisement associated with one or more keywords similar to one or more coπesponding key words for at least one of the coπesponding searches.
14. A computer data signal embodied in a carrier wave comprising: a computer program for providing a remotely hosted search agent capability for a plurality of web sites hosted on a plurality of computers, the computer program including a first set of instruction for inserting into a search results relating to a search of a web site in the plurality of web sites a save search command, the save search command for sending a signal to the computer program requesting that the search be saved, a second set of instructions for responding to a signal received from the save search command by saving the search as a search agent, a third set of instructions for automatically executing the search agent on the web site, and a fourth set of instructions for reporting on new search results responsive to the executing.
15. An apparatus for providing a remotely hosted search agent capability for a plurality of web sites hosted on a plurality of computers, the apparatus comprising: means for inserting into a search results relating to a search of a web site in the plurality of web sites a save search command, the save search command for sending a signal to the apparatus requesting that the search be saved; means for responding to a signal received from the save search command by saving the search as a search agent; means for automatically executing the search agent on the web site; and means for reporting on new search results responsive to the executing.
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