Technofile: Watch Time Stand Still

You'd expect an organ as globally conscious as Colors, Benetton's "magazine about the rest of the world", to have a feel for what the overseas development crowd call appropriate technology. The theme of the current issue is "Time", and here the website's massive investment in Java and Shockwave animation pays off. As you gaze at the "Starting Java" messages and the empty windows, waiting for the show to start, you have the perfect opportunity to reflect upon the paradox of Web time. The circuits inside the chips are performing countless numbers of operations per second, shuttling messages among themselves and from your computer to Italy, at speeds vastly beyond comprehension. Back in the world of carbon-based information processors, there's time to go and make a cup of tea.

Websites of this sort are like the theatre: they require their viewers to bear with the changing of scenes and the raising of the curtain, in order to appreciate the spectacle. The pages are worth the wait. A quartet of clocks, on synchronised parade, sets up a rhythm that is sustained throughout all quarters of the feature. Letters flow together and break apart to a slow beat; the sense of an underlying coherent sequence is also conveyed in details such as the different shapes of subsidiary windows which open up at certain points. Total design, as you'd expect from a project under the auspices of Fabrica, Oliviero Toscani's research school.

Although the online "Time" is a piece in its own right, not an extract from the magazine, comparison is instructive. The interesting thing about the magazine is the way in which, by combining the corporate style with a free editorial hand, it gives its publisher a chance to show that there really might be more to bold images and globalist rhetoric than selling jumpers. There is ample space for detailed information, which makes turning the pages of the magazine a quite different exercise in stimulation than driving past a poster hoarding. The Web experience is more like watching a television commercial. One of its four routines is based on the statement that "most people have only an eight-second attention span". In the print version, the phrase appears in red, the only element that stands out in a page of plain text, which defies the reader to work through the 1,274 words in its argument, despite the absence of any design devices to lessen the effort. The essay on how people read magazines and newspapers ends with the announcement "And now, back to the design tricks." The Web version does not deconstruct itself in this way, leaving that to the viewer. Watching an adjacent segment, which reveals ploys that Disney uses to keep queues docile at its theme parks (straight ones look shorter than snaking ones, for instance) the smarter Netizen may reflect that Web technologies are the most manipulative of all consumer management systems. Only the m-word is normally spelt "interactive".

CODE WAR

There can be few sites that worry about their responsibilities more than AntiOnline. Devoted to making the public aware of the need for computer security, it is constantly wrangling with the question of how much to reveal. The dilemma was particularly acute in the case of Milw0rm, a group of hackers who recently claimed to have raided the computers of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, in Bombay, in protest against India's nuclear tests. Since AntiOnline will not risk publishing information about how to make nuclear weapons, it is unable to show that Milw0rm really did acquire sensitive material, as the hackers claim and the Centre denies. AntiOnline's scruples even extend to the hackers' privacy, with assurances given that the personal details on them were released with their permission. They boast names like VeNoMouS, Hamst0r and Keystroke, they hail from the US, England, Holland and New Zealand, and they give ages of 15, 17 and 18. The most persuasive evidence in support of their tender years is the prose style and orthography of the fake BARC home page they posted, featuring a mushroom cloud and the caption "oh gn0, like this is what happens if j00 play with atomic energy!#@!" Their wackiest touch is their claim to have gained access through something called the United States Dental Command Center, which presumably co-ordinates extractions and fillings throughout regions of strategic interest.

TECHNOTIP

As I noted last week, the Prime Directive of Internet connection is "the faster the better". One way to speed things up is to store Web pages in a cache on your hard disk, so that when you call them up again, they are near to hand. Browsers already do this, but there are also add- on programs which claim to do it better. Connectix boasts that Surf Express allows you to "surf the Web up to 36 times faster". I tested it following the guidelines they supply, and found that it roughly halved the time that pages took to load. Not quite a factor of 36, but still welcome; and the effect would have been greater if the connection had been at 28.8kpbs rather than 44. If you think pounds 35 is worth paying to tune up your Internet connection, then you'll probably be happy with it, and it's certainly cheaper than buying a new modem. It works with Netscape Navigator, Internet Explorer, Windows and Macintosh.

DUMB -

'You can get the Internet on computers now?'

Homer Simpson

n

- AND DUMBER

'A quarter of those who do not use the Internet are unaware that a computer is needed for Internet access. Nearly two-thirds do not realise that a phone line is necessary'

Findings from the 'Which? Online' Annual Internet Survey 98

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