Born to Code

Jayson Adams, the 24-year-old founder of Atherton Software Works, reclines in the chair of his tiny Silicon Valley office and talks about starting a new company. "Yeah, it's a little scary, but it's nice, too, because I can write whatever I want in terms of code," he says, laughing somewhat nervously. "That's what I love to do the most write code."

Adams, who taught himself how to program at the age of 12, says he also has wanted to run a software company "far back as high school." When Mac software development was the hot market for enthusiastic young programmers, he was still pursuing his degree in electrical engineering at Stanford. Then NeXT came along, and he hooked his wagon to it : first as a strategic-developer engineer at NeXT, helping developers that NeXT especially wanted to see working on the platform. Last November, his entrepreneurial dream intact, he began a leave of absence from NeXT and took the plunge into business.

His goal for Atherton is a simple one: "I want this to be a small company that churns out great software. And it has to be fun. I'm only going to do it if I'm having fun doing it."

While still at NeXT, Adams created NewsGrazer, an application that enables Internet-news readers to quickly access the topics in which they're interested through a simple Browser-like interface. He created it for his own use, but since he began distributing it as a freeware program, it's become a standard mode of communication within the NeXT community.

Shortly after starting Atherton, Adams set his mind to more specific information-management strategies. With more and more corporations entering the NeXT market, he realized that users would need to manage larger and larger information bases, such as live news feeds like DowVision and Reuters. Very often, this information is automatically dumped into a folder in a bookshelf and almost forgotten. How, he asked himself, can users easily access and use that data? His answer took the form of NewsExplorer, a program that can be used to search for and retrieve articles from electronic feeds. Using keywords, users can then assemble the articles they're interested in.

"NewsExplorer has queries . . ." he pauses, as the creator of an information-retrieval system would, to search for the right phrase, "No, filters, that access data streaming in." Adams showed NewsExplorer at NeXTWORLD Expo with a demo using a simulated DowVision news feed. The program searched for all articles relating to his keyword, "economy," then displayed them in both an indexed window and a summary window that acts like a ticker tape, displaying headlines in a stream that flows across the bottom of the screen.

With Global Information Group, a small Chicago-based software developer that specializes in sophisticated news-retrieval applications, Adams has been working on expanding the software's abilities, so it can build logical arguments from models chosen by the user.

For example, he explains, a zoologist can access a scientific research news feed and highlight articles on kangaroos. He can then indicate which articles he's interested in and tell the program to search in the future for similar articles. The software might return a statement to the screen like, "User looking for articles on kangaroo social habits and parenting techniques." The software uses a specific keyword-based algorithm structure that can figure out similarities between articles and then generate sophisticated query structures. "Users may not realize that certain words do a better job of describing types of articles they're interested in than words they'd think of naturally," Adams says. Those rules can be built into the software. "Having the computer do the work maximizes the results," he says.

Adams wants to also focus Atherton's resources toward helping users use information once it comes into the computer. Engage, his other new application (see "Boots and Suspenders" for a review in this issue), is "a different twist to Application Dock-extenders with multiple levels it lets you create a dock to guide work flow," he says. Users can define different levels in the dock by project, time, workgroups, and can include images, text, and sound files. Adams is also working on "personal information" software and a corporate-bulletin board application.

As much as he loves to write code, Adams always keeps the goals of the user in mind: "I want to help people manage information," he says, "because everyone's bombarded with information these days. The trick is to not get overwhelmed by it."

by Eliot Bergson