Web Techniques Magazine
February 1998
Volume 3, Issue 2

The Last Page

Willy Wonka and the Eyeball Factory

By Michael Swaine

Let's try a thought experiment. Let's say you're running a search site, like Excite or Yahoo, and you run a little check to see who's getting the most hits. What site would you guess will come out on top in your survey?

Well, it could be Moldavia.

Last fall, thousands of Net surfers downloaded a program that supposedly gave them access to erotic photographs. Maybe it did, but it also cut them off from their local ISPs and reconnected them to a telephone number in Moldavia (a country wedged between Romania and the Ukraine). Phone bills ran into the thousands of dollars. The hijackers were ordered to pay them.

It was a season for Internet hijacking: Another accused hijacker, self-described Webslinger Eugene Kashpureff, was apprehended in Canada and held, according to a curiously specific news report, with "150-odd undocumented workers who'd been rounded up at a candy factory." I dunno; to the wetback Willy Wonkas, the wayward Webslinger may have seemed the odd one.

Or maybe not. Kashpureff, the founder of AlterNIC who rerouted Web traffic headed for the InterNIC site to AlterNIC last summer, is a hero to some.

But it won't be Moldavia, and it probably won't be Alternicia that heads your hit list. Could it perhaps be the Orrin Hatch Web page?

Hatch has done his share recently to make Bill Gates' life miserable, and while that isn't enough to make me want to buy his album (see my October, 1997 column), it could raise the hits at www.senate.gov/member/ut/hatch/general/. (Aside to anti-Microsoft conspiracy theorists: When Sun technology czar Eric Schmidt shocked his friends by signing on as CEO of beleaguered Utah-based Novell, was it really to get better access to the head of the Senate Judiciary committee?)

But no; political sites just don't draw that big. More likely, your heavy hitter is Microsoft itself.

Certainly www.microsoft.com is a busy place, what with having to post the official company responses to all those lawsuits. A lot of sharks smell blood now that Microsoft has been nipped on several flanks, and are cautiously nibbling the tender flesh. (I take with a grain of salt those reports that it tastes like chicken.)

Microsoft top lawyer Bill Nuke 'Em last fall found himself having to simultaneously defend the company from Hatch's Judiciary committee, the U.S. Justice Department, Sun Microsystems, the continent of Europe, and Ralph Nader.

And if it's not suits, it's suites. Lotus, undeterred by Corel's failure, has released a Java-based suite of applications, which the anti-Microsoft batallions have rushed to support. And IBM has lined up the same troops behind the banner of its Webtop spec. This is all Write Once, Run Anywhere stuff, which Bill Gates takes as a personal affront.

Bill is so nervous that he campaigned for a tough handgun bill in Washington State last fall, after someone told him that Sun CEO Scott McNealy has a lot of friends in the NRA.

But it's not Microsoft. Some technews site, serving up stories like these, perhaps?

News item: Dynamic HTML promises to do for the Web what the Web did for the Internet. (That's what I'm afraid of.)

News item: Think of XML as doing for the Web what Windows did for personal computers. (That's what I'm afraid of.)

Assign those unoriginal hacks to the Moldavia beat, I say.

No, you'd find that the hottest site was your own: the search page itself. Because to find the sites they want, visitors have to keep visiting yours.

You thought that you were the driver, but you find that you're the destination. You thought you had a service, but you find that you're in real estate, sitting on an oil well. Black gold. Texas tea. Well, what can you do but pack up the kinfolk, exploit the land, and move to Beverly.

Hills, that is. Banner ads. Eyeball factories.

So Web search engines and Internet directories are muddling their navigation function with ads and content. CNet's Snap Online is an extreme case of the mania to turn search engines into clones of USA Today ("Shania Twain: Country Vixen; Singer Sees Model Success in ENTERTAINMENT"). I warned you about this.

Last August, I said, "A navigation control, completely separate from the page content, would be a Good Thing." But you didn't listen to me, and now look (www.snap.com).

If anyone wants my opinion, I'll be out by the cement pond.

Mike is an editor at large, contributing editor, and columnist for Dr. Dobb's Journal and Web Techniques. He can be reached at mswaine@cruzio.com.

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Last modified: 2/2/98