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Online Gumshoe Trolls Web

Investors looking for that extra edge may want to check out Infonautics' new CompanySleuth product, which searches free databases on the Web for information such as insider trades and trademark filings.

With very little official marketing, CompanySleuth has attracted a user base that's a "5-digit number and counting" since it was launched last month in beta form, said Josh Kopelman, executive vice president and co-founder of the Wayne, Pa.-based Infonautics (INFO), which operates a few other Web sites, including the eLibrary and reference services.

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Infonautics shares rose 1/16 Thursday to 1 7/16, well off the 8 5/8 high reached in April.

Kopelman attributes CompanySleuth's early success to good word-of-mouth, or what's often called viral marketing. "One person at Whirlpool signed up the first day, and now there are over 30," he said. "You could almost picture the e-mails being sent around."

In January, Infonautics plans to launch a more extensive marketing campaign along with announcements of charter advertisers for the free service, he said.

The company is also looking at 25 or so additional content sources to expand the information provided by CompanySleuth. Possibilities include SEC filings, product recalls and shareholder lawsuits, Kopelman said. The service now only tracks publicly traded companies but private firms will also be added.

CompanySleuth, which sends an email every day to users with information on the stocks they've chosen to track (up to 10 are allowed), will generate revenue primarily from advertising and e-commerce relationships, but could also charge users for certain premium information, Kopelman said.

Information discovered by the product, however, is usually on the Web for up to 24 hours before it's found. Kopelman admitted that people who know where to look and have the time to go to each site could find the same information.

For instance, GeoCities (GCTY) recently registered several new domain names, such as, with InterNIC, which published the information o Monday. CompanySleuth found it on Tuesday and this reporter got an email with the update on Wednesday morning. (Another recent domain name registered by GeoCities:

One huge fan of the product is Bruce Judson, the co-creator of Time Warner's Pathfinder service and now the editor of an independent online paid newsletter Grow Your Profits.

Judson, author of the books Net Marketing and the upcoming HyperWars, recommended the product in his Oct. 30 issue, calling CompanySleuth "the first service I have seen that makes it easy to continuously monitor the vast range of potentially valuable information available about a specific company on the Web."

Business executives wanting to get a bead on what competitors or prospective clients are doing will also benefit from the product, Judson said.

Much of the information on CompanySleuth - such as new message board postings on Yahoo! and Motley Fool or analyst reports - isn't likely to be of much use for investors, but the service could come up with some potential profitable scoops. If CompanySleuth had been available, it would have found out about patents registered by Open Market (OMKT) weeks before the company officially announced them in a March press release that sent the stock up 15 percent, said Judson, who is on Open Market's board of directors.

Or take the case of Microsoft (MSFT), which in May filed a trademark for the name TaxSaver and then registered the Web address the next day. It wasn't until July that a trade magazine broke the news that Microsoft was planning to ship a product to compete with Intuit's (INTU) TurboTax.

Kopelman warned that investors should only use what CompanySleuth finds as a starting point to doing more in-depth research. "Not everything we give here is going to move the stock price," he said.

Written By Darren Chervitz

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