SNOWBIRD, Utah -- In the not-too-distant future, you surf on over to

Amazon.com

(AMZN) - Get Report

to buy the latest

John Grisham

best seller. But just as you're ready to click to purchase it, a message pops up on your screen: "This book is available on barnesandnoble.com for $2 cheaper."

That's the fantasy that was spun by Naveen Jain, CEO of

InfoSpace.com

(INSP) - Get Report

, the recently public company that syndicates phone listings, maps and other information to numerous sites across the Internet, in his presentation at the

Hambrecht & Quist planet.wall.street

conference Tuesday. It's Jain's version of the desktop portal -- software like

America Online's

(AOL)

ICQ program, which chugs away in the background or foreground of your computer screen as long as you're connected to the Internet.

In InfoSpace's version of the desktop portal, you wouldn't necessarily be using the software to chat with your friends, as people do with ICQ. Instead, the portal's most obvious application might be as parental control software for monitoring a child's Internet usage. Or maybe it would be used to track stocks. But the stealth function of the software would be to track your Internet travels -- and to insert John Grisham ads at the exact moment they'd be most effective.

Jain said the software is working in-house, but he wouldn't give a date for when the company might introduce it publicly.

One of the people crowding around Jain after his presentation was Ned Hamarat, president of institutional money-management firm

Beekman Capital

. Hamarat said he bought stock in InfoSpace.com and is holding on to it -- hooked by more down-to-earth visions like the expected growth in revenue that the company gets from running local ads sold by its partners among local yellow pages customers. "I think the growth opportunities for the company are huge," Hamarat said.

-- George Mannes

autoweb.com Steers Toward IPO

As the trillion-dollar auto industry adapts to the Net, soon-to-be-public

autoweb.com

is counting on a piece of the action.

CEO Dean DeBiase pointed to data suggesting the potential of auto sales on the Web. A fifth of all online searches involved autos. A quarter of car buyers used the Web as part of the shopping process, a figure expected to rise to 50% in 2000. "I'm very bullish about the market," DeBiase told

TSC

.

Half of autoweb.com's $13 million in revenue last year came from dealer referral fees and the rest from advertising and alliances with partners such as

State Farm Insurance

. The company tries to keep visitors returning to the site by offering information to research models, appointments to test-drive cars and the ability to buy and sell cars online. And autoweb.com plans an online service center to help owners with tune-ups.

There is some competition facing autoweb.com.

Microsoft's

(MSFT) - Get Report

CarPoint and

Autobytel.com

offer similar services. DeBiase said his company is trying to distinguish itself by making online car buying as easy as possible. For example, the company is "certifying" dealers to help them better understand and service Internet consumers.

-- Suzanne Galante

Online Investing for the Masses

Not all the investment tips here are passed along inside the conference rooms.

Just ask the ski bum doubling as a shuttle-bus driver, who couldn't stop asking about the Internet companies presenting at the conference and really wants to start buying some. He said he wants to take control of his own investments, which apparently means volatile Net stocks. But his biggest concern right now, outside the slippery road conditions, is which online broker to go with: It's a tossup between

E*Trade

(EGRP)

and

Charles Schwab

(SCH)

.

-- Suzanne Galante

As originally published, this story contained an error. Please see

Corrections and Clarifications.