Software Patent Abstract
A software agent is provided which executes instructions on a local
user's computer to retrieve potentially changing information content
from remote target sources, including web pages, over a computer
network, such as the Internet. Different types of software agents
are available to retrieve different types of information content
from remote sites. Agent types include a smart agent, a search agent,
a custom agent for detailed tasks and an RSS agent for retrieving
structured XML format documents from remote Internet sites. Information
retrieved by the agents is formatted and stored locally for presentation
in a publication on the local computer. Publication templates can
display target content retrieved by multiple agents from many different
remote target pages.
Software Patent Claims
What is claimed is:
1. A local computer for retrieving a changing target content from
multiple target sources on a remote computer, the local computer
comprising: a user interface for inputting information into an application
window, wherein information consists of: a URL of a target source,
a start and end marker text of a target content of said target source;
and a structural location of the target content within target source
code; an agent builder program for identifying the URL of the target
source inputted by a user, and for analyzing and decomposing of
said target content; and a software agent comprising program instructions
for automatically retrieving a target section of said target source
code irrespective of whether the target content has been moved or
has changed within the target source; the software agent for retrieving
a changing target content from a first target source on a remote
computer, the software agent further comprising: means for retrieving
data from a target source on a remote computer, first program instructions
for identifying a predefined structural location of target content
located within a version of data retrieved from the first target
source, said predefined structural location based upon a structural
location of target content identified in a previous version of data
retrieved from the target source using the agent builder program
and stored as information, said first target source comprising content
in addition to said target content; second program instructions
for identifying a predefined structural location of target content
located within said version of data retrieved from the first target
source by evaluating the target source for the start and end market
text when the target content cannot be identified by the first program
instructions; and an agent engine for executing said first program
instructions and said second program instructions to retrieve potentially
changing target content from the predefined structural location
in the target source; and third program instructions for displaying
a first portion of content retrieved from the target source, the
first portion consisting of the potentially changing target content
from the predefined structural location in the first target source,
the second program instructions further for displaying, simultaneously
with the portion of content retrieved from the target source, a
second portion of content retrieved from a second target source,
the second target source being different from the first target source.
2. A software agent according to claim 1, wherein the data is a
web page structure and the first program instructions and the second
program instructions further comprise algorithms for parsing the
data retrieved from the target source structure to find the target
3. A locally executing software applications for retrieving and
arranging target content from a target source on a remote computer
on to a local computer, the software applications comprising: a
user interface application for inputting information into an application
window, wherein information consists of: a URL of a target document,
a start and end marker text of a target content of said target document,
and a structural location of the target content within target document
source code; an agent builder application for identifying the URL
of the target document inputted by a user, and for analyzing and
decomposing of said target content; and a software agent comprising
program instructions for automatically retrieving a target section
of said target document source code irrespective of whether the
target content has been moved or has changed within the target document;
a software application comprising at least one agent generated by
the agent builder application having information describing a predefined
structural location of a target content within a target document,
the target document comprising content in addition to the target
content, and an agent engine for executing first program instructions
and second program instructions using the information to automatically
download a dynamically changing target document from a remote computer,
locate a changing target content within the target document, extract
the located target content, reformat the extracted target content
into a common format, and store the target content on the local
computer irrespective of whether the target content has been moved
or changed within the target document, first program instructions
to locate the changing target content using the structural location
from the target content that was defined from a previous version
of the target document and second program instructions to locate
the changing target content using the start and end market text
when the target content is not found by first program instructions;
and at least one publication template for arranging a portion of
the dynamically changing target document consisting of the retrieved,
stored target content for display on the local computer.
4. The software applications according to claim 3, further comprising
an application display window capable of displaying the target content
as arranged by the publication template.
5. The software applications according to claim 4, wherein the
application display window is a web browser.
6. The software applications according to claim 3, wherein the
at least one agent comprises a plurality of agents and the at least
one publication template comprises a plurality of publication templates.
7. The software applications according to claim 3, further comprising
the software application having scheduling means for executing the
at least one agent on a periodic schedule.
8. The software applications according to claim 3, wherein the
at least one agent includes parsing means for determining the location
of target content within the structure of the target document.
9. The software application applications according to claim 8,
wherein the parsing means comprises agent information having target
content source structure information and algorithms for parsing
the structure of the target document to find a target document structure
containing the target content described by the agent information.
10. A method for retrieving a target content from a remote computer,
the method comprising: receiving information from a user as input
to a user interface, wherein information consists of: a URL of a
target document, a start and end marker text of a target content
of said target document, and a structural location of a target content
within target document source code; generating, by an agent builder
program, a first software agent, the first software agent comprising
routines for automatically retrieving a target section of said target
document using said information irrespective of whether the target
content has been moved or has changed within the target document;
providing a software application having at least one autonomous
agent generated by the agent builder program, wherein the at least
one autonomous agent comprises the first software agent, each autonomous
software agent comprising, a respective agent information, routines
and an agent engine to execute the routines and apply agent information
to download a dynamically changing target document from a remote
computer, locate a changing target content within the target document,
extract the located target content, reformat the extracted target
content into a common format, and store the content on a local computer,
wherein the routines of each autonomous software agent comprises
a first routine that uses the structural location that was defined
from a previous version of the target document and associated with
the agent information to locate the changing target content and
a second routing that uses the start and end marker text to locate
the changing target when the target content is not found by the
first routine; executing the at least one agent on the local computer
to download the target document from the remote computer and locate
and extract the target content from the target document by executing
the first routine and the second routine; storing the retrieved
target content on the local computer; and displaying a portion of
target document, the portion consisting of the retrieved target
11. The method according to claim 10, further comprising displaying
the stored target content on the local computer.
12. The method according to claim 11, wherein displaying the stored
target content comprises providing a publication template having
formatting, selecting stored content to display using the publication
template formatting, and arranging the stored content according
to the publication template formatting in an application window
on the local computer.
13. The method according to claim 10, wherein executing the agent
comprises running the at least one agent, generating with the at
least one agent an instruction to retrieve at least one document
identified by the target source URL to the local computer, finding
the target content within the retrieved at least one document using
the first routine and the second routine and copying the target
14. The method according to claim 13, wherein storing the retrieved
target content further comprises saving the copied target content
as an agent result file on the local computer.
15. The method according to claim 14, further comprising displaying
the stored target content on the local computer.
16. The method according to claim 15, wherein displaying the stored
target content comprises providing a publication template having
formatting, selecting at least one agent result file to display
using the publication template formatting, and arranging the stored
content in the agent result file according to the publication template
formatting in an application window on the local computer.
17. The method according to claim 16, wherein the at least one
agent comprises a plurality of agents, selecting at least one agent
result file comprises selecting a plurality of agent result files,
the stored content in each of the plurality of agent result files
being arranged according to the publication template formatting
in the application window.
18. The method according to claim 13, wherein finding the target
content comprises parsing the target document, and locating a structure
within the parsed target document structure matching the structural
location information in the agent information.
19. The method according to claim 18, wherein locating the structure
comprises applying a plurality of algorithms to the parsed target
20. A method for downloading a dynamically changing target document
from a remote computer to a local computer and locating and extracting
a target content from the target document, the method comprising
the steps of: receiving information from a user as input into an
agent builder program for automating the retrieval of dynamically
changing target content; downloading a target document from a remote
computer by an agent generated by said agent builder program, and
further characterized by the steps of identifying a target content
within the target document, the target document comprising content
in addition to the target content; parsing the target document to
determine a structural location of the target content in the target
document; and storing a description of the structural location of
the target content, a URL associated with the target document, and
a start and end marker text of the target content as agent information;
generating, by the agent builder program, a first software agent,
the software agent comprising routines for automatically retrieving
a target section of said target document using said agent information
irrespective of whether the target content has been moved or has
changed within the target document; downloading a subsequent version
of the target document from the remote computer by said first software
agent; retrieving the target content within the subsequent version
of the target document, and further characterized by the steps of:
executing routines of the agent to locate and retrieve the target
content by executing a first routine wherein locating and retrieving
use the structural location associated with the agent information
to locate the target content and a second routine wherein locating
and retrieving use the start and end marker text when the target
content is not found by the first routine; and displaying a portion
of the subsequent version of the target document, the portion consisting
of the target content.
21. The method of claim 20, wherein identifying the target content
comprises providing identifying start marker text and identifying
end marker text that delimits the target content in the target document.
22. The method of claim 21, wherein the start marker text and end
marker text each comprise one of plain text, stylized text, and
HTML syntax elements.
23. The method of claim 21, wherein the start marker text and end
marker text define target content separated by non-text web page
24. The method of claim 21, wherein the target content is contained
in two different structures in the target source.
Mobile Phone Patent Description
FIELD AND BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates generally to the field of programmed
software agents and in particular to a new and useful software agent
for retrieving changing information from predetermined networked
There are many different types of networks presently known and
existing. Local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANS)
are typically internal to an organization. These networks are usually
isolated from outside users or other networks, but may be interconnected.
The Internet is a large global network of interconnected computers.
A particular computer or a file containing information on such
a computer may be found through an "address" or URL (uniform
resource locator). Any computer which is connected to a network,
and especially, the Internet, must have an address which identifies
it to the other computers on the network.
Computers which are permanently connected to a network may have
files identified by specific URLs which can be accessed by other,
remote computer users also connected to the network. When the files
contain text and graphics in HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) or
similar languages, these files are often referred to as "web
pages". Web pages can be viewed by different users with a software
application known as a web browser, such as Netscape's NAVIGATOR
browser or Microsoft's INTERNET EXPLORER browser. Each web page
that is stored on one of these networked computers has a distinctive
URL which can consistently be used to locate the web page and its
current content for display in a browser application window.
Web page files which are in HTML or a similar language contain
formatting and presentation instructions that can be used by a remote
user's web browser to display the content of the web page on their
local computer. The text and graphics on the web page that the remote
user actually sees are typically referred to as "content".
In recent years, the Internet computer network has become increasingly
commercial and continues to grow in size at a rapid rate. It is
possible to find massive amounts of information on trivial subjects
in a short period of time using the Internet. However, due to the
commercial nature of some sites, advertising has become a major
portion of many web sites. On some web pages, the amount of advertising
can dwarf the information content of the page. Other pages contain
so much information, it is difficult for a user to discern which
information is most relevant to him.
The formatting of web pages using HTML and related languages divides
content into particular sections, or structures. Often, only one
or two of the structures of a particular web page will contain useful
information content. The remainder of the page may be advertising
or irrelevant information.
Search engines exist to help users find information content on
web pages by indexing the pages of owners who register with the
search engine against the terms which appear in their web pages.
When a user accesses a search engine, the terms entered into the
search engine are compared to the previously indexed terms and a
listing of hyperlinks to potentially relevant sites is presented
to the user. The listing of hyperlinks is generated based on the
search engines best guess of which sites are most relevant using
a weighting of the search terms. A search engine is not an exceptionally
accurate way to find information. But, when a source location is
not known, it provides a good starting point.
Agent software, sometimes referred to as "intelligent agents",
"robots", "bots" or "spiders" is generally
known in the art of computers. The term intelligent agent can be
used to mean a broad range of software programs having pre-programmed
logic for performing particular functions. The particular functions,
programming and purpose vary from agent to agent. Most software
referred to as intelligent agents operates on many different computers
across a network. That is, the agent functions are distributed and
require the cooperation of at least two computers.
Agents may be used to perform commercial transactions, such as
the intelligent agent disclosed by U.S. Pat. No. 5,983,200. The
agent is used to execute tasks electronically using given information
and learned information. The agent quickly performs actions across
a network which would otherwise be very time-consuming for the user
who enabled the agent.
Software agents which can be programmed to perform particular functions
are thus very useful and have many different applications.
Agent software executing on a user's personal computer which can
retrieve, format and display content from many different remote
sources to the user's local personal computer is not presently known.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
It is therefore an object of the present invention to provide a
search agent software for retrieving a changing information from
known remote computer locations.
It is a further object of the invention to provide a software agent
which executes on a local computer to retrieve information from
remote data sources.
Yet another object of the invention is to provide a software agent
that can recognize retrieved content formats for storage and publication
Accordingly, a software agent is provided which executes instructions
on a local user's computer to retrieve potentially changing information
content from remote data sources over a computer network, such as
the Internet. Different types of software agents are available to
retrieve different types of information content from remote sites.
The agent has pre-programmed agent information which the agent
uses in conjunction with agent tools and routine libraries to find
and identify desired information content. The agent information
includes the URL of a remote web page, called the target web page,
containing the desired information content, called the target content.
The agent retrieves the target web page identified by the programmed.
URL to the local computer. The agent parses the target web page
using pre-programmed agent information to identify target content
structures in the target web page.
Target content can be found by the agent, even if the specific
information content changes, and in certain cases, even if the position
of the target content changes within the target web page. The agent
tools include algorithms for searching the target web site for the
web page structure containing the target content, even when the
target web site has changed form.
Once the target content is found in the retrieved web page, the
target content is saved by the agent in a known structure with some
formatting information from the original target web page.
A method for creating the agent involves specifying the type of
agent, and supplying agent information including identifying the
agent with a name and brief description, identifying the URL of
a target web page, identifying start marker text, and identifying
end marker text, followed by generating the agent programming using
the target URL, agent information and the agent tools and routine
libraries. After generating the agent, the accuracy of the agent
can be verified by running the agent to ensure it retrieves the
target content from the specified section of the target web page
The various features of novelty which characterize the invention
are pointed out with particularity in the claims annexed to and
forming a part of this disclosure. For a better understanding of
the invention, its operating advantages and specific objects attained
by its uses, reference is made to the accompanying drawings and
descriptive matter in which a preferred embodiment of the invention
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
In the drawings:
FIG. 1 is a schematic diagram showing the relationship between
a local user of the agent and a network of data sources;
FIG. 2 is a graphical depiction of the architecture of a software
agent of the invention;
FIG. 2A is a graphical depiction of a the architecture of a custom
FIG. 3 is a graphical depiction of the architecture of an RSS-type
FIG. 4 is a flow chart showing the steps for creating an agent;
FIG. 5 is a representation of a parse tree created by an agent
to describe a target page; and
FIG. 6 is a flow chart showing the steps the agent performs when
DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
The agent software of the invention is particularly advantageous
for use since it is stored on and executes on a local computer where
the user of the agent software is located. Execution of agent routines
on other computers is not required for the agent to function; the
agent software only requires access to the information stored on
remote computers to perform its functions. The agent of the invention
can be used to create a personal Internet portal for a individual
user by retrieving, formatting and storing content from one or more
specific remote locations. The stored content can then be put into
a personal publication presenting the content from many different
remote locations on a single, local page.
The creation and use of the agent software will now be described
in greater detail.
Referring now to the drawings, in which like reference numerals
are used to refer to the same or similar elements, FIG. 1 shows
the environment in which the software agent 10 operates. A user's
local computer 5 having one or more software agents 10 of the invention
loaded and operating on the local computer 5. The local computer
may be an Apple MAC, an IBM-PC type, one using UNIX or LINUX operating
systems, PALM PILOT, or another computer capable of displaying graphical
or text content to a single user. The local computer 5 is connected
to a computer network 500, such as the Internet, via any known connection
50, including local area network (LAN) CAT5 wiring, dial-up telephone,
digital subscriber line (DSL), T1 lines, and cable modem, among
The computer network 500 includes multiple data sources 20. Each
data source 20 has a unique URL, called a target source or target
web page, which can be accessed by the agent software 10 and contains
desired information content, called target content. The possible
forms for the target source are not limited to traditional web pages,
and include HTML documents, XML documents, text files, graphic files,
mail messages, database files and other similar types of computer
files. Each agent 10 includes a link to a single data source 20.
The data sources 20 could be accessed by a conventional web browser
and the information content is in a format readable by the conventional
The agent software 10 resides entirely on the user's computer 5
and, when activated, downloads the target web page located at a
specified URL of the data sources 20. Many agents 10 can operate
on a single user's computer to retrieve target content from many
different target web pages.
FIGS. 2, 2A and 3 illustrate the structure of three primary types
of the software agent 10.
FIG. 2 shows the general architecture of an agent 10 which can
ultimately be one of two related types: a smart agent and a search
agent. The drawing illustrates the specificity of the different
parts of the agent 10 with general programming at the bottom and
specific instructions at the top of the diagram.
Instructions which distinguish the current agent 10 from other
agents are input to an agent builder program 115 using the user
interface 15 of computer 5. The agent builder program 115 converts
the input instructions into smart agent information 120. The smart
agent information 120 is essentially data with parameters that can
be used by the other agent software modules.
All agents 10 include a foundation 100. The foundation 100 has
various agent tool and library routines used by the agent 10 to
perform its functions. Tools and library routines may include a
function to request and retrieve a target web site from a URL specified
by the smart agent information 120, checking algorithms for verifying
the accuracy of an agent and other common programming routines that
can be combined to produce larger program functions. The foundation
100 further includes communications protocols and HTML and RSS parsing
routines, as described in more detail below.
The smart agent engine 110 uses the foundation 100 elements to
produce program instructions for the agent 10 based on the smart
agent information 120. The smart agent engine 110 includes a predefined
process for applying the tools and library routines to the problem
presented by the smart agent information 120. A smart agent is the
basic agent of the agent software 10.
A search agent includes the search agent information 130. The search
agent information 130 adds a place holder to the smart agent information
120 for entering search terms or other information, such as a username/password
combination. The search agent may be used to retrieve search results
from a known remote site (the target web site) offering indexed,
searchable information, among other things. The search agent information
130 causes additional instructions to be added to the program created
by the smart agent engine 110.
A custom agent module 150, as shown in FIG. 2A, interacts directly
with and is built on the foundation 100. The custom agent module
150 includes an engine 152 for building and operating a program
process using the foundation elements. Custom agent information
154 is used to generate the agent 10 programming. Custom agent modules
150 incorporate specialized functions which cannot be enabled using
the basic smart agent engine 110.
An RSS-type agent 10 is shown in FIG. 3. Some sites on the Internet
contain information in a: format known as RSS, which is a specific
structured form of XML. The RSS format is very specific and all
data in RSS format always has the same structure. Another similar
format is known as RDF.
An RSS-type agent is a simplified version of the smart agent of
FIG. 2 described above. The RSS-type agent 10 can be used to retrieve
any content which is stored in a predetermined, known structure,
like RSS or RDF.
The RSS type agent 10 includes the foundation 100 like a smart
agent, but the RSS agent engine 112 and RSS agent information 122
are simplified. The RSS agent information 122 consists simply of
the URL location of the desired RSS format data to be retrieved.
The RSS agent engine 112 contains program instructions designed
to specifically retrieve and store content in RSS format that is
modified only by the URL location in the RSS agent information 122.
The steps for creating an agent 10 to retrieve information content
from all or part of a known web site are displayed in the flow chart
of FIG. 4. First, in an application window on the user interface
15, the agent type is specified 200 as a basic smart agent, a search
agent, a custom agent or an RSS agent. The URL of the target page
of the web site is identified 210 for the agent 10 using the user
interface 15 and agent builder 115. Text and HTML in the target
page are then downloaded and stored 212 in its entirety on the local
Once the target URL is identified, optionally, the content of the
target web page can be displayed 215 with the user interface 15
in a browser window for reference.
The target page is then parsed 217 by the agent builder 115 to
determine the structure of the target page. The syntax and structure
are analyzed and decomposed by the agent builder 115 and a parse
tree is constructed. The parse tree represents all of the major
structural elements found in the target web page, using well-known
semantics associated with HTML syntax. The hierarchy of the original
target page is determined, along with nodes that correspond to each
structural element found in the target document. Plain text, links,
image references and all other web page components are related to
the HTML syntax elements enclosing them in the target page definition
and placed into the parse tree structure as elements of the tree.
It should be noted that images and non-text elements are not downloaded
since they are result of separate HTTP (Hypertext Transmission Protocol)
transactions different from the one required to retrieve the target
In all cases, the original HTML formatting information, structural
information and content from the target page are maintained in a
form that allows the original version of the target page to be recreated
in a functionally equivalent form.
For smart, search and custom agents, the target content of the
web page is selected by a user and identified 220 for the agent
in two steps. The user selects a unique text at the beginning of
the target content and identifies the text for the agent 10. This
text is referred to as the start marker text for the target content.
Then, a second unique text near the end of the target content is
selected and identified for the agent 10. This text is referred
to as the end marker text.
The start and end marker text identify a section of the target
web page containing content that is desired by a user. The actual
text content found in that structure may change periodically; the
marker texts are only used to identify the structure within the
target page where the target content is initially located on the
Identification 220 of the start and end marker text in the target
content can occur in at least three ways. The user can identify
the text by manually entering the marker text into an agent builder
application window on the user interface 15, the user can cut and
paste text from the target web page into the agent builder 115,
or the user can select the text in the browser window displaying
the target web page and direct the agent builder 115 to retrieve
the selected text and use that for the input for the identification
Start and end marker text may consist of plain text, stylized text,
HTML syntax elements such as tags or comments, or any other text-based
information contained in the target web page.
In all cases, the start and end marker text is used to identify
an approximate, human readable location in the precise structure
of the target web page that the agent builder 115 can use as a starting
point to determine the actual physical location within the web page
structure and syntax. The human readable and identifiable location
may consist of a single block of content from the target page delineating
the entire area of interest, or, it may consist of discontinuous
areas of text to be considered the start and end markers for the
area of interest.
The unique text used for the start and end marker text does not
need to be precisely at the beginning or the end of the content.
The agent builder 115 contains an algorithm for checking the identified
text in the target page against the marker text and to determine
which section or sections of the target web page are intended to
The marker text is distilled into a case-insensitive version of
the text identified 220 by the user, with all unnecessary white
space and intermediate formatting removed. The agent builder 115
then searches 230 the parse tree for a sequence of text-based content
that matches the marker text. The marker text can span multiple
nodes the parse tree and be physically separated by intervening
HTML formatting tags. The agent builder 115 can reassemble the linear
stream of content-oriented information from the raw HTML information
using the structural information in the parse tree. The content
stream is compared to the distilled marker text to ensure that the
correct structure has been located 230.
As an example of the parsing, assume the following represents the
structure of a simple HTML document:
<head><title>This is a test</title></head>
<tr> <td>Tuesday, Mar. 21, 2000</td> <td>Headlines:
New software builds agents!</td>
<tr> <td><img src=''something.gif></td>
<td>A picture of something</td> </table> </body>
FIG. 5 illustrates what the resulting parse tree 700 of this structure
may look like. Thus, if the user specified start marker text to
be "Tuesday" and the end marker text as "Headlines",
the agent builder 115 will determine location of the structures
having this text in the parse tree 700. The agent builder 115 will
find that the start marker text is contained in the first table
710, first row 720, first cell 722 and the end marker text is in
the first table 710, first row 720, second cell 724. The agent builder
115 then determines that to construct the agent 10 for extracting
a useful, syntactically correct fragment of HTML from the target
page that it must extract the contents of both cells 722, 724 in
the first row 720. The agent builder 115 will also extract the surrounding
HTML formatting and elements to make the extracted content into
a complete, stand-alone HTML entity. Thus the resulting extracted
content will be a stand-alone HTML table having the following structure:
<tr> <td>Tuesday, Mar. 21, 2000</td> <td>Headlines:
New software builds agents!</td>
The second table row is excluded from the target content since
even though it was a part of the same table, or parent object, it
was outside the target object--the first row.
Once the marker text is found 230 in the target page, the structural
location within the parse tree is stored. This is done for both
the start and end marker text.
If the agent 10 is an RSS agent, then the start and end marker
text is not necessary, because the RSS content at the target URL
is intended to be taken in its entirety. The RSS content corresponds
to the entire desired content and so it is not in a section of a
target web page that must be identified like other non-RSS content
may be. Thus, steps 220 and 230 may be skipped for RSS agents.
Returning to FIG. 4, when the start and end marker text locations
have been identified in the parse tree, the agent builder 115 proceeds
to automatically generate 240 the program steps that are needed
to replicate the parsing and identification steps 217, 220, 230.
It is thus clear that the agent builder 115 software generates an
agent capable of identifying a structure containing the potentially
changing target content on a fixed target URL.
The agent builder 115 moves back and forth through the parse tree
hierarchy to determine a common structural element containing all
of the start and end marker text. Then, program instructions are
generated to identify the same location in future, changed versions
of the target page. This feature permits the agent to repeatedly
and accurately retrieve changing content from the same location
of a target page. These instructions are combined with program instructions
for automating the download, analysis and extraction steps of the
agent execution process (explained below) using the foundation 100
elements. The resulting agent 10 program is stored for future execution.
To use a constructed agent 10, a similar process to the one described
above is followed. As shown in FIG. 6, first the agent 10 is activated,
such as by a scheduling application or manually by a user, and the
target page at the URL stored in the agent information 120 is retrieved
300. The current version of the target web page is downloaded into
the memory of the local computer 5 by the agent 10. The target web
page is then analyzed and converted into a parse tree representation
The program instructions generated by the agent creation are used
to locate 320 the structural location in the parse tree where the
target content was originally found, without regard to the current
content at the structural location in the current version of the
web page. If the structural location is the same as when the agent
10 was first programmed, the target content will be retrieved, formatted
with the surrounding HTML information and stored and/or displayed
340 for the user on the local machine 5.
When the target content is identified in the structure of a retrieved
page, the content text is extracted and HTML content is regenerated
around the content text based on the structure surrounding the content
text in the current version of the retrieved page. The structure
of the original target document that was used to create the agent
10 is only relevant to the evaluation step insofar as the original
structure was used to generate the program instructions used by
the agent to retrieve and evaluate the current version of the target
If the structural location cannot be found or has changed from
the originally programmed agent information, the agent 10 can evaluate
330 the parse tree to attempt to determine the current location
of the target content. The evaluation of a retrieved target page
is based on a series of rules derived from the standard syntax of
HTML documents. The target content area is by definition contained
within some set of hierarchal HTML tags, provided that it has not
been eliminated entirely from the target page. The software agent
10 embodies knowledge of these tags, their relationships, and proper
syntax and semantics. The agent 10 includes algorithms using this
knowledge to determine where the target content structure has been
moved to within the target page.
A primary benefit to the agent 10 is that multiple agents 10 can
be used to quickly retrieve target content from many different remote
sources, all of which can then be displayed in a single application
The retrieved target content is stored on the local users computer
5 in a format which is known to the software agent application 10.
The retrieved target content is very simply, data, which is stored
on the user's computer 5 in a standard format and can be accessed
repeatedly by a display program. The data includes the content text
and HTML formatting information.
One or more predefined display structures, called publication templates,
can be used to arrange the stored target content into personal web
pages having different formats, such as like a newspaper, web portal,
etc. The publication templates are programmed with instructions
for accessing particular parts of the stored target content and
displaying it in a user application window, such as a browser window.
As an example, five agents are programmed to retrieve content consisting
of the current news headlines and opening paragraphs of each story
from five magazines and newspapers available on remote Internet
web sites. A scheduling application activates the agents every hour.
The five agents each executes its programmed instructions and retrieves,
formats and stores the target content from each of the five news
sources on the user's computer 5. After the target content is stored,
the user selects a publication template which will display only
the headlines from each news publication in its own section on a
page in three columns. The associated first paragraph of the story,
which is part of the retrieved target content but is not desired
will not be displayed using the selected publication template. The
template specifies where the content from each publication will
begin and which components of the target content text will be displayed.
The template may also display information such as the URL where
the content was retrieved from, at what time (to show how up to
date it is) and the content provider name.
Thus, used in combination in a single software application, the
agent 10 and the publication template provide a very powerful tool
for retrieving changing target content and displaying the target
content in a succinct, useful manner. Such a software application
can permit a user to retrieve only desired information from a target
web page and screen undesirable content which is of no interest
to the user. The application operates faster since it executes on
the local user's computer, and only requires an Internet connection
to retrieve the target content. Once the target content is retrieved,
all operations occur entirely on the user's computer, with no Internet
interaction being necessary.
The agent's content generation functions permit it to generate
the stored output in any standard text-based format presently known.
The agent includes gateway interfaces which permit the agent to
communicate using standard network protocols with a wide variety
of network services, such as e-mail, HTTP, FTP, etc. The agent includes
translation services for converting between disparate types of formats,
such as XML, HTML, and WML/WAP).
The agent software is executed at the application level of any
operating system. The agent 10 is a peer application to a web browser
and any other user-accessible applications, such as word processors,
spreadsheets, or games. The agent 10 has the ability to act as an
intermediary for the web browser software, allowing the browser
to communicate with the agent 10 and the agent to act as a proxy
on behalf of the browser for subsequent downstream http requests
to remote URLs. The agent also acts as a server of web content to
the browser on the local computer 5. The agent software is implemented
entirely on the local computer 5.
While a specific embodiment of the invention has been shown and
described in detail to illustrate the application of the principles
of the invention, it will be understood that the invention may be
embodied otherwise without departing from such principles.