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Spotlight (continued)

No, I'm not selling their stuff. Really. But I'm enthusiastic when I see a tool that can save minutes out of my day, if everybody uses it.

From your point of view, you see only see these agents when you see a little box on a home page that says, "Ask a question." In back of that box is a link to Conversagent's hosted service.

If you're thinking, "Oh, no, not Ask Jeeves!," you're pretty much thinking what I did. All these natural language response agents, from Eliza on, fail miserably and embarrassingly, because it's too much work for the person writing them to anticipate all the different questions you can ask.

But they don't necessarily fail if what you're asking is something that a) has a simple answer and b) is something that hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of other people ask for: "Can you give me directions to your Atlanta office," for instance. For questions like this, it's actually faster to ask the question than to poke through most web sites.

And that's what Conversagent sells: a hosted agent that lets you give customers reasonable, quick automatic answers to the 200 or 300 or 400 most common questions you have.

Now, anybody can do that with an FAQ file. But this allows you to enter the question in your own words, because it has a synonym file and a simple natural language analyzer that lets it figure out that for a stockbroker, a security is a stock and for Microsoft, security is a problem.

I'm a sucker for demos, but in the demo I saw, it didn't seem all that hard to build or maintain. Right now, only big companies need apply. But some day, even mid-size companies will be able to plug into this and let both themselves and their customers spend their time answering the hard questions, not the easy ones.

If you do take a look at Conversagent, let us know what happened. But it does appear to us as if this really could help.