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Network: New Media - Help! We need an angel to rescue our hard drives

APOLOGIES TO regular readers for the absence of a column last week, but the demon of hard drives decided it was time to strike my long- suffering lap-top. And what a hellish experience it was; I'm still trying to get the damned thing fixed. The repair people took away my lifeline, twiddled with her insides and spat her back out at me with no software at all, and years of hard work gone for ever.

Why am I whingeing about this? Because while all the new media industry ticks along, we tend to forget how much we rely on hardware. When something goes wrong we are at the mercy of an IT bod who charges the Earth to switch the hard drive, without recovering the data.

How come there isn't an AA equivalent for computers? Surely it's time someone started a decent emergency service based on a membership and annual fee? With all the venture capital around, how come no one has thought of ploughing it into a basic public service?

AskJeeves, he knows

On first hearing about the Carlton/ Granada AskJeeves deal (pounds 20m for 25 per cent apiece) eyebrows were raised, questioning the sanity behind what seems a huge investment. But delve deeper and look at the potential and, believe it or not, it does seem cheap. Consider the current value of AskJeeves on Nasdaq ($3.6bn), the head start that Carlton and Granada have in the search engine market and the inevitable floatation, and the deal starts to make commercial sense. With both Carlton and Granada looking to develop more branded sites to add value to ONdigital, it's important for these media players to make the right kind of strategic investment or find themselves marginalised by less-established players.

The gaffer's gone online

News of the League Manager's Association website, complete with a private intranet for Premiership and Nationwide League managers, has to be one of the most intriguing uses of the Internet since, well, CurrantBun.com (RIP).

The days of brown envelopes and cloak-and-dagger meetings at motorway service stations could soon be over now that football managers, armed with their free lap-tops, have their own intranet where they can supposedly meet in the privacy of the ether.

According to Alan Curbishley, of Charlton Athletic, the managers are excited by this new development, presumably after being shown by their secretaries how to switch on the lap-tops and type in a password. But I just can't imagine the likes of Derby County's Jim Smith, after having lost a vital six-pointer by a dubious penalty, e-mailing other managers to vent his spleen on the standards of modern refereeing. Might save him a few bob in fines, though.

The scheme is obviously not without its merits, and the long-suffering Danny Wilson has already demonstrated its serious side. Reports suggest that the beleaguered Sheffield Wednesday manager's first e-mail simply read "Help!". Could this be a reference to his inability to recognise a lap-top computer from a talented foreign footballer, or a man who is staring at Grimsby Town away next season? Let's hope Danny can pick up some tips over the intranet and save the Owls (yes, my team) from the looming threat of relegation.

The Beeb's makeover

The millions in licence-payers' money the BBC has been spending on its online strategy over the last few years are finally beginning to show. On the public service site, of course, the money has gone into defining bbc.co.uk's core values, which we're now told are based around localisation, community and information - so nothing original there, then. While the jury is out on the new-look site, the organisation of content is certainly much clearer, with room to expand on popular categories such as sport, entertainment - formerly the remit of its commercial sister site beeb.com - and radio.

The underlying ploy of the new BBC Online strategy is to keep out foreigners - sorry, non-licence-fee-payers - who now account for about 50 per cent of site traffic. In the pipeline are 40 or so country-specific sites, supported by advertising, where non-licence-fee-payers will find themselves exiled - kicked out of UK site with just a few juicy bits to chew on.

The thrust of this strategy is bbc.com, bought for pounds 200,000 this year, which will determine where you're accessing from and redirect you to the appropriate regional site. And if you don't mind advertising alongside the BBC brand, you can even toddle off to beeb.com, which has also just had a makeover, and let BBC Worldwide tell you what to spend your money on. Gonna be a tough one to police, and no doubt give the British Interactive Publishers Association something else to complain about, particularly when it sees the ad campaign beeb.com has planned for commercial TV next year.