IBM gets smart with its own ‘tags’

IBM Corp. was set to announce Monday that it has partnered with a small technology developer to offer customers using its Websphere Portal Server an application that ties data in back-end servers to related words on a Web site, a feature similar to Microsoft Corp.’s controversial Smart Tags.

The Armonk, New York technology giant has teamed with Atomica Corp. of Burlingame, Calif. to distribute an application called Answer Delivery, which can be used to turn every word on a Web site or in a Windows-based application into a Web link. Users can then click on a word while holding down the “Alt” key and access related data from a corporate database or Atomica’s own database of general information.

“Every word on the screen becomes ‘smart,'” said Bob Rosenshein, chairman and chief executive of Atomica. “When you Alt-click on a word, up pops a window with context-sensitive information.”

Microsoft announced a similar technology with its Office XP software suite called Smart Tags, which allows users to access Web content or information stored in their own computers by clicking on certain keywords. Smart Tags was also to be included in Windows XP and Internet Explorer, but Microsoft pulled the feature after critics complained that it could be used to unfairly steer users towards Microsoft’s Web properties.

Unlike Smart Tags, which offers access to predefined Web sites and pieces of data, Atomica’s software can be customized to access data from a corporate database or from Atomica’s library of information. Called the Topic Warehouse, Atomica’s database includes data ranging from profiles of public companies to definitions from the American Heritage Dictionary.

Accessing content objectively is what sets Answer Delivery apart from the controversy behind Smart Tags, according to Peter O’Kelly, an analyst with Boston-based Patricia Seybold Group. “Atomica is totally user-directed,” O’Kelly said. “It’s not doing anything on your behalf unless you tell it to.”

Atomica changed its name from GuruNet Corp. in November 2000 when it moved away from a consumer focus, and is now pitching its XML (Extensible Markup Language)-based technology to corporate customers. Its deal with IBM should give the company access to more than 100 customers that have already purchased the Websphere Portal Server, IBM officials said.

IBM’s Websphere portal software competes with products such as Microsoft’s SharePoint Portal Server and Oracle Corp.’s Oracle9i Application Server Portal. Businesses such as online banks have built portals with IBM’s software that allow clients to access personal accounts and services online. Customers also use the software to build portals for business partners to process orders and billings via the Web, and for employees to access human resources information and other personalized services.

Websphere Portal customers can add Atomica’s basic hyperlink application – which links words to Atomica’s Topic Warehouse – at no charge. Developers can incorporate the application into a portal with by adding modular applications, which IBM calls “portlets,” into the server software.

Customers that use Atomica’s software to tie Web sites to corporate databases, such as internal CRM (Customer Resource Management) and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) applications, must purchase servers and support from Atomica, IBM officials said. Those customers get access to Atomica’s Topic Warehouse as well as Topic Builder tools, which allow developers to create links pointing to data in corporate servers.

IBM, in Armonk, N.Y., can be reached at Atomica can be reached at