A California startup is trying to improve on the web browser with a free add-on tool that lets you access services from websites without having to actually visit them.

The add-on is available for Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. Once downloaded, it appears as a collapsible toolbar at the bottom right corner of the screen, with icons for services such as YouTube, Wikipedia, Map Quest and Flickr.

When you're browsing the web and come across a term you want to know more about, you can highlight the term, click on the Wikipedia icon, and a box pops up with a snapshot of the Wikipedia page about that item. Clicking on a 'Share' icon lets you send the text and the link for the web page to friends via Gmail or Facebook.

The tool is called RoamAbout, to reflect the idea that you take your favourite services with you as you roam about the web. It was introduced by startup Vysr (pronounced ‘visor’) in late March and has been downloaded about 10,000 times, according to CEO Guda Venkatesh.

In July, Vysr opened its platform to let third parties develop further toolbar applications, which they can then try to make money from through advertising or other means. Vysr also added some new applications, including one for searching eBay, a music service from Grooveshark, and a comparative shopping service from one of its first developer partners, Viddu.

Viddu CEO Kiran Patchigolla said he was drawn to Vysr because it provides an unobtrusive way for people to use other services without having to open new browser tabs. He said it took him a weekend to create a new view for his existing shopping tool so that it can appear in RoamAbout.

The applications available in Vysr today are still fairly limited, however - there are about a dozen - and Gmail and Facebook are currently the only ways to connect with friends.

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