Online chats with celebs hot ticket

Sunday, May 17, 1998

BY CHARLES BREWER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

What's the hottest thing on the Internet? Chatting with celebrities.

America Online has been the longtime pioneer of putting a celebrity in front of a keyboard and letting just plain folks log in to fire the questions. The format reached a new height late last month when 8,000 AOL subscribers logged on to chat with Koko the gorilla -- an event billed as "the first inter-species chat."

Koko, who can communicate with sign language, answered questions relayed by her trainer, Dr. Francine Patterson. Video highlights from the chat can be seen at NewStream (http://www.newstream.com/rm/98-150.ram), and a transcript can be found at The Primate's Home Page (http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/Vines/4451/).

Search sites join fray

The Internet's major search sites (which are calling themselves "channels") are joining the chat fray.

Yahoo! has joined with several Time Warner publications to provide celebrities for their chat site (http://chat.yahoo.com). You need a My Yahoo account (it's free) to participate.

Last week, for example, Yahoo! Chat featured caustic Hank Nasiff, a k a "Hank the Angry, Drunken Dwarf" from the Howard Stern show. (Hank recently overwhelmingly won People Online's Most Beautiful People Poll.) There was also a session with Julia Butterfly, who's been sitting in a treehouse for five months in an effort to save a redwood tree.

Transcripts of Yahoo! chats are available online in the Pathfinder site (http://www.pathfinder.com).

Over at Excite's chat area (http://talk.excite.com), the Real Hollywood chat area last week featured actor Joe E. Tata and talk show host Sally Jessy Raphael. And Lycos Chat (http://chat.lycoschat.com) had as guests last week the president of the Hotel Reservations Network and a group of folks who chase tornadoes.

Guess with all this competition, a good guest is hard to find.

A COM-mon problem

Last week, in my column about spy cameras, I misidentified the JenniCam site address as www.jennicam.COM when in fact it's www.jennicam.ORG. Let me repeat that: The JenniCam site is www.jennicam.ORG.

The COM suffix is so commonly used that many people mistakenly type ".COM" when they should be using ".ORG" or ".GOV" or other Internet suffixes. Writing last week's column, I slipped and fell into that trap myself.

This phenomenon is not lost on Internet porno operators, who snag similar-sounding URLs to set up their smut shops. For example, mistype the Web address for the White House, and you'll end up in a porno parlor. When NASA landed a roving robot on Mars last year, its Web site was jammed with folks following the mission. So a porno operator set up shop with a similar Web address to snare wayward NASA visitors.

Well, the media hype surrounding JenniCam prompted someone to set up an adjacent porno site at Jennicam.Com. So Monday morning, my e-mail and voice mail was full of complaints from readers who thought I was promoting porno in my column. (Some noted that their Internet filtering software didn't block it, either.)

No, I'm not promoting porno. Yes, I should have double-checked my URL. Mea culpa.

But one also has to wonder about the mentality behind this method of marketing porn. Smut is so easy to find on the Web, is it really necessary to set these dumb little traps for unsuspecting Web travelers? Is someone trying to connect to the U.S. government going to be happy when dirty pictures appear on their terminal?

We can only hope that eventually, this kind of sleazy, in-your-face promoting of porn will force the adult sites to be restricted to a "combat zone" of smut. Many already are proposing that a separate Internet suffix, such as ".adult" be used to identify smut sites. For those of us who automatically type ".COM" at the end of a Web address, tomorrow wouldn't be soon enough.

Oh, and another thing: The address for the Wescam site isn't www.wescam.com, it's http://wescam.inline-design.com -- but at least wescam.com wasn't a porno site too!

Send e-mail to Charles Brewer at CBrewer@enquirer.com.

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