AT&T, Vizible To Launch Firefox-Based Browser With Ads

screenshotAT&T has gone Pogo. The telecommunications giant has partnered with emerging tech firm Vizible to develop Pogo, a Web browser that adds a visual dimension to searching for and organizing info on the Web.

Pogo is built on the Mozilla Firefox browser, and the free, potentially ad-supported application is not geared toward the tech-savvy digerati. AT&T is aiming for the everyday users of the Web with Pogo--a factor that pits it head-to-head with Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

But according to executives from both AT&T and Vizible, the goal is not to start a browser war. "We're trying to improve the way people find, collect, organize and manage info on the Web," said Todd Finch, president and CEO of Toronto-based Vizible. "Humans are visual, and Pogo adds a visual layer to the browsing experience that's intuitive to use."

With Pogo, users can see their tabbed, bookmarked and previously viewed Web pages in small thumbnails close to the bottom of the screen. The application takes snapshots of each Web page viewed, and users can then save these snapshots as bookmarks, flip them over to tag them with snippets of info, and organize them into groups called Collections. Although not definite, AT&T's business development team said that the plan was to run contextual ads in a small window at the base of these Collections modules.

"There are an infinite number of monetization opportunities," said David Krantz, vice president of business development at AT&T. "We could link Pogo to other AT&T content and services, for example. But the goal is to get people to use the product first, to make browsing and searching more functional."

Other features include a searchable, visual history of previously viewed sites, with each snapshot floating in the center of the page. Users can filter through their browsing history to find pages that they can't remember the URL for, and Pogo also offers a private mode that disables the creation of automatic snapshots.

AT&T's Pogo also aims to upgrade search by allowing users to sort through and create a collection of their most searched-for Web sites. So a user that frequently searches for "classic cars" can aggregate all of the search results (powered by Google) that they actually clicked on in one module.

The application is built on Vizible's proprietary "cell primer," which packages multimedia info--be it a Web page, an mp3 file or a photo--into a flexible, movable cube. The cell primers can be grouped and displayed in any shape or formation, like spheres, rows, columns and arcs. While in Pogo, the units are grouped primarily as squares--but the application is built on an open platform to allow for customization and add-ons from third-party developers. Vizible initially developed the tech for enterprises that needed visual representations of mass quantities of info, including Deutsche Bank and The Pentagon, both previous clients.

AT&T began collaborating with the visual technology firm in summer 2006, but hands-on programming and development of Pogo started roughly 14 months ago. Since then, the telecom giant has run a number of focus groups and usability tests, with groups ages 18-30, 30-50 and 50 years and older. "We had some preconceived notions about which age groups and users Pogo would appeal to more," said Justin Marcucci, director of business development at AT&T. "And we found that it was appealing to both younger and older users. but for different reasons."

Still, the Pogo team will be taking a "back door" approach to marketing Pogo, according to Finch. "We're going to work with the tech blogs and younger users, but we're aiming for everyday Internet users."

AT&T is set to roll out a new version of Pogo next week, and to expand its preliminary test to a limited beta. After sufficient user feedback, the telecom giant will begin a multichannel marketing push, including themed events and live demos, as well as communications with their wireless and DSL subscribers.

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