The advantage of a bot is that one can use an on-line service without having to visit it

An IM bot basically serves as an interface for accessing a specific on-line service.

This week NetSpeak explores the world of IM bots and introduces a few useful ones.

From being a simple device to communicate instantaneously, the Instant Messenger (IM) service is fast becoming a generic gateway for accessing a variety of on-line information/services. The mechanism that enables an IM network to enhance its capacity in this manner is the IM bot or chatbot.

An IM bot is a program that acts like a real contact/buddy. To use an IM bot, you just have to add its id to your contact list and communicate with it — as if it is a real person. This virtual contact accepts commands from you (via IM messages through the usual chat window) and responds with appropriate answer. An IM bot basically serves as an interface for accessing a specific on-line service. For instance, the MSN IM bot Encrata Instant answers ( encarta@botmetro.net) allows you to obtain answers to your queries from the MSN Encarta Encyclopedia (http://encarta.msn.com/).

To use the Encarta bot, just add ‘ encarta@botmetro.net’ as your contact, open the chat window for this buddy and then send your query (like ‘what is inflation?’) as a message. Immediately the bot will fetch you the answer from Encarta database.

The advantage of a bot like this is that you can use an on-line service without having to visit it. In fact, a variety of such IM bots, meant for accessing several on-line services, are in place. A few of them are discussed below:

Imified

GoogleTalk, Google’s chat tool has several useful chatbots. This column has already introduced a few them (like the twitter@twitter.com that helps one post twitter messages to her twitter page from gTalk). Imified is another similar bot worth exploring.

Imifed ( http://www.imified.com) lets you manage online notes, to-do lists and the like directly from your IM client. By just adding the ‘ Imified@imified.com’ buddy to your contact list and sending a message to this buddy, you can create an account with this service. To post a note, just send it as a message to the contact ‘Imified’. The service can also be used to access several web-based applications — like posting to Del.icio.us and Blogger — directly from the IM interface. The service’s menu can be obtained by sending the letter ‘M’ to the Imified. Apart from gTalk, this service accommodates other IM networks such as MSN and AOL as well.

Language translation bots, the recently released gTalk bots from Google (http://googletalk.blogspot.com/2007/12/merry-christmas-god-jul-and.html), could come in handy for many in this globalised world. For example, if you wish to surprise your Chinese friend with a few Chinese words, while on Chat, use the bot en2zh@bot.talk.google.com. Whenever you type in a phrase in English on this bot’s chat window, it immediately displays the corresponding Chinese version. You can paste this word while chatting with your Chinese friend and amuse her! Of course, the translation may not always be accurate. However, you can check it out with the help of the ‘chinese to english’ translation bot ( zh2en@bot.talk.google.com). Apart from English to Chinese, translation bots for several other languages (like French, German and Japanese) are available.

A plethora of useful IM bots, meant for the popular IM network AOL, are also available. Those of you who prepare for tests like SAT (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAT) may find the AOL IM bot ‘profgilzot’ ( http://www.profgilzot.com/) useful. This bot lets you take live preparation tests. In this regard, you may check out the AIM bots gallery (http://gallery.aim.com/browse/bots), where you can find several bots created for the AIM network.

If you wish to monitor the latest news on your favourite subject (like technology and science), you can use the news bots available at Vicito News ( http://www.vicito.com/). The service provides bots for several IM networks that include MSN and gTalk.

Special search services

Vertical search engines (search services meant for a specific subject) help one access relevant information on a particular topic with ease. For instance, Healthline ( http://www.healthline.com/), the health search engine mentioned earlier, is an example. The health search engine from Microsoft (https://health.live.com/) is another one of this kind, recently stumbled on by this author.

Online radio stations

As mentioned in an earlier column ( http://www.hindu.com/biz/2005/06/13/stories/2005061300341600. htm), thanks to the wide penetration of the Net, tens of hundreds of radio stations are available on-line.

However, finding a radio station that suits one’s interests may not be that easy. In this regard, the radio directory ‘Iheard’ ( http://www.iheard.com/) assumes significance. This search directory hosts links to thousands of radio stations under categories such as genre, country and language. You can easily tune to a variety of on-line radios that include music radios, talk radios and religious radios with this service.

J. MURALI

He can be contacted at: jmurali@gmail.com