Until recently, connecting with folks for conversation on the Internet meant visiting chat rooms or hoping that your buddies were online when you were. Not anymore. Thanks to a slew of next-generation browser tools, finding, chatting, and, yes, even surfing with friends and colleagues has never been easier. Here’s our comparison of three tools, each of which makes the Web a less lonely place to surf. These technologies still have a way to go, but if you’re an early adopter, it’s worth experimenting with them.

THIRDVOICE 2000
www.thirdvoice.com

WHAT IT DOES:
Allows you to leave “sticky notes” with your comments about Web pages (the latest version of this high-profile and controversial tool).

NICE TOUCH:
This version turns any word into an “active word.” Click on an active word, and ThirdVoice retrieves any content associated with that word, including shopping opportunities and discussions, that it can find.

NEEDS WORK:
Although ThirdVoice maintains most of its original sticky-note capabilities, it’s lost some of its rebel appeal. You can still attach notes to a word or a phrase, but other people have to look in the “notes” section to find them.


INSTANT RENDEZVOUS, FROM MULTIMATE.NET
www.multimate.net

WHAT IT DOES:
Enables instant messaging —and then some. You can see and communicate with people who are on your buddy list, as well as with other Instant Rendezvous users who are on the same Web page as you are.

NICE TOUCH:
IR Wireless. Access your buddy list, e-mail messages, and community notifications from any Web-enabled mobile phone or PDA. Just bookmark a URL, enter a user name and a password, and you’re in.

NEEDS WORK:
The user interface has got to go. The icons for the tool’s functions aren’t explanatory. For example, the button for retrieving messages is an exclamation point. What does that have to do with anything?


SPOTON
www.spoton.com

WHAT IT DOES:
Lets you record a collection of pages as a tour. Other users can then “flip” through the pages simply by hitting the “next” button on the tool’s remote-control-like panel.

NICE TOUCH:
You can rate and annotate tours, and then e-mail your reviews to friends — who don’t even need SpotOn to “play” the tours.

NEEDS WORK:
If you want to create tours, you’ll need the full version of SpotOn, which is only compatible with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Also, there is no offline capability, so you have to be connected to the Net to view a tour.