A Napster for needlepoint grannies? It could only happen in America

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The Independent Online

With amazement I read of another Napster last week. Nothing to do with music, or even youth: this one was about needlepoint. Apparently, the "industry" of designing cross-stitch patterns, already in dire straits (75 per cent of companies went out of business in the 1980s) is now having to face up to silver surfers using scanners to share - or "pirate", choose your side of the fence - patterns they've bought for $3 to $12.

With amazement I read of another Napster last week. Nothing to do with music, or even youth: this one was about needlepoint. Apparently, the "industry" of designing cross-stitch patterns, already in dire straits (75 per cent of companies went out of business in the 1980s) is now having to face up to silver surfers using scanners to share - or "pirate", choose your side of the fence - patterns they've bought for $3 to $12.

The wicked/open-sourcing/tech-savvy (delete as appropriate) ladies of the needlepoint world have realised they don't all have to buy a pattern for all to benefit. It really is another Napster in the making. With no means to stop the scanning, it's easy to see where it'll end up: all the businesses bust, and needlepoint back to being something you do for recreation rather than profit.

I must say, I rather like the idea of the Americans so fondly embracing technologies which thoroughly undermine the capitalism that throbs through their veins.

Toying with online privacy

Oh dear, another privacy policy down the pan. A class-action (that is, pots of people getting together) lawsuit has been filed against Toys'R'Us, claiming that it breaches its own online privacy promises. While it says that any personal information is kept "completely confidential", actually it lets a marketing company build profiles of people, including children, while they're on the site.

As a certain US president could probably point out, it all depends on what the meaning of "completely" and "confidential" is. Toys'R'Us says it hires Coremetrics, from San Francisco, to analyse its customers' data "to enhance the customer shopping experience". The thing is, Coremetrics is an ASP (applications service provider), so Toys'R'Us does have to send the data out to it. So, is that a third party or not, since Coremetrics is hired by Toys'R'Us?

The real conclusion: the self-regulation of privacy on the Net in the US is a mess. There's an arms-race going on in which users lie ever more wonderfully, while the websites get ever more sneaky in the ways that they bend and twist their policies to try to get at the real people using their site. Set cookies to off, warped answers to questionnaires full ahead, Mr Sulu.

A computer virus? What's that?

A friend e-mails in despair after finding that his computer has been infected with a virus for six months, and that unwittingly every time he sent out an e-mail its signature was potentially infecting every recipient. "How can one guard against viruses sent as signature files?" he asked.

A quick analysis: the virus was spread by ActiveX, Microsoft's "version" of Java which runs on Microsoft Internet Explorer. My friend was using Microsoft Outlook Express, running on Microsoft Windows95 (or perhaps Windows98). The only pity is that he wasn't doing his e-mailing via a Microsoft Hotmail account, or he would have collected the set.

Personally, browsing the Web with iCab and e-mailing with Eudora on a Mac, I don't know what the fuss is about. My anti-virus software is threatening to strike for more work. People keep asking how to avoid viruses, and I keep telling them: "You're saying, 'How do I stop this wolf biting me?' And the answer is: 'Take off that sheep outfit'."

Cocking a Snook

HANS SNOOK, the exceedingly wealthy former hippie in charge of Orange, is definitely becoming extremely tedious in his promulgation of all things futuristic. The man who splashed out nearly £100m on the utterly useless Ananova is now trying to get us to ignore the fact that WAP phones don't come near to their hype by proclaiming to all that "one day we'll be able to conduct transactions and get information [from computers and phones] via thought transfer".

Sure thing. Actually, Snook reminds me of Richard Branson, who regularly has remarkable bits of news about himself on the days when Virgin Trains is about to be panned once more for its awful service. The overlooked fact amidst all this PR push is that all the money splurged on Ananova and the rest is thus not available to hire real people to answer the phone in its call centres.

Having spent 40 minutes waiting for Orange customer services to answer the phone the other day, I think I could suggest a better use of the company's money which would improve its service right now, rather than at some unknown future time. Especially as I was trying to get a mobile connection from New York. The ultimately unfulfilled call (I hung up before it was ever answered) cost me $70 on my hotel bill, and Orange thus didn't get my business; AT&T or some other US superglomerate did. If Hans Snook could have received information via my thought transfer on that day, I think he might have melted.

Another one bites the dust

So Clickmango is squashed. Last October the dynamic duo of Robert Norton and Toby Rowland got £3m in venture capital from Atlas Ventures after just eight days ("10 months and eight days - there was a lot of hype," according to an informed source last week). But that was then. Now it's winding up, unable to compete with better-placed players.

It's a trend: in the US, 122 Web companies have laid off 7,592 people since December. Last week a former boo staffer auctioned off his boo share certificate. Got £102 for it - not bad. I'd like to buy the original clickmango business plan, to see how big an envelope it was written on.

carthur@independent.co.uk

Eva Pascoe is spending time with her startup, Alexandra

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