Mercado Software Introduces Intelligent Catalog Builder

Searching an online catalog usually results in sites that include the word or words a user searches for. When traveling to sites such as Yahoo or Lycos, it's typical for users to wish they could just explain to the search engine what it is they're looking for. It would be even better if the search found results the users didn't even know they were looking for, kind of like a smart engine. It's really up to the administrators of those sites to make sure their company's catalog is user-friendly.

Mercado Software Inc. (Palo Alto, Calif., www.mercadosw.com) believes it has the solution, a program called Mercado Catalog Builder, designed for use with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT Server and Site Server Commerce Edition and Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP). The intelligence in Catalog Builder comes from IntuiFind, a technology built by Mercado to define and exploit relationships among catalog data to simulate how humans associate sometimes-disparate information.

Menachem Cohen, CEO of Mercado Software, says this catalog would be of good use to the most successful e-commerce sites online today, such as Amazon.com or Reel.com. The difference, says Menachem, is the IntuiFind technology.

IntuiFind creates three capabilities in Web searching. The first is a parametric search that lets customers search the catalog by product features. Customers can choose on the basis of specifications such as size, price and availability. There's also a categorical search that lets users sift through categories to nail down a more specific search.

The most useful capability, says Menachem, is the associated search that lets customers use free-form queries. Not only will the search understand misspelled words, but it will also return items associated with the query. The example Mercado uses is a search for "red wamen's coats." Although "women's" is misspelled, the search will bring back all red women's coats, along with associated items such as raspberry windbreakers, maroon blazers and vermilion overcoats.

When ENT searched Reel.com for Star Wars, only items with the exact words came back. Using Catalog Builder, says Mercado, the search would bring back The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and then possibly continue on to movies directed by George Lucas or starring Harrison Ford. Those items would be ranked in order of the most typical association.

The IntuiFind technology in Catalog Builder can also search phonetically, so if a user enters a word such as "industree," although the word is misspelled, Catalog Builder knows "ee" sounds like "y," so it will search for "industry." Menachem says the technology also allows users to input different languages.

Since Catalog Builder is designed for use with Microsoft's products, developers can work in ASP and HTML scripts and templates to define their catalog, build the catalog interface, and publish their catalog to the Web. Catalog Builder integrates with Site Server components such as Ad Server, Personalization and Membership Server, and Shopping Cart so developers can keep track of their online commerce.

"You can have the best products, security and shipping, and basically give your products away, but if people can't find them they won't buy them," says Menachem. "We want to make the Web shopping experience the same as shopping in the regular stores." The current version of Catalog Builder can catalog up to 1 million items. Menachem says the next version, expected out next year, will be able to catalog 5 million.

Mike Scott, high-technology chairman for Locator Online (Alexandria, Va., www.locatoronline.com), a directory of used metalworking equipment and machinery dealers, says his company uses Catalog Builder for its 30,000 cataloged items. "It integrates completely with our back end," says Scott. "We looked into things like Yahoo and Excite, and the code is too bulky."

"I haven't heard anyone claim to have this kind of technology," says Chuck Shih, an analyst for the Gartner Group (Stamford, Conn.). "As far as catalog vendors are concerned, this is very different." Although Locator Online's Scott says Catalog Builder integrated with his back-end database, Shih says administrators have to re-input all of the catalog data.