Tyson, aliens and K2: diary of a night on the Internet

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Set up system. For comparison, it seems worthwhile to compare what the Net can offer with the traditional newspaper sources - the "wires". US diplomats killed in Yugoslavia, Pakistani climbers being airlifted off K2, racial slurs in the OJ Simpson case.

There are 12,621 "newsgroups" to choose from. These are text-based discussion areas, classed by the topic, where one "posts" news or views. Each is treated as equally important. But "news" from one group rarely spills over into another.

I decide to check alt.alien.visitors to see if there have been any. There are 600 "articles", all posted in the past two days. But the messages are mostly arguments about how man would react to aliens, and whether they would be friendly.

AP is reporting the results of a tennis match. Reuters has some football results. Later tonight, Mike Tyson fights Peter McNeeley in the first part of his comeback. I decide to see how quickly I can find the result on the Net.

The biggest problem with trying to find "news" on the newsgroups is that it is purely a matter of luck. With a fairly arbitrary list of 35 newsgroups, I prepare to see what people in the US are talking about tonight. There is no newsgroup devoted to boxing. Check uk.rec.climbing to see how the British climbing world has reacted to the latest news, of the confirmed death of Alison Hargreaves and of two other British climbers elsewhere. However, the most recent messages on the topics are from Friday.

A survey of 850 Internet users shows 70.1 per cent think that OJ Simpson is guilty, 18.6 per cent do not, and 10.9 per cent cannot decide. But almost half think the result will be a hung jury; 22.2 per cent expect an acquittal; and just 82 people expect a guilty verdict.

The news headlines on the Web are the same as half an hour ago. Reuters says a train has hit a bus in Cuba, killing eight. AP says Terry Norris won by knockout. The search for news is proving difficult.

On the newsgroup alt.internet.media-coverage (which discusses how the media treat the Internet - usually, in the contributors' opinion, badly), "James" from NorthWestern University writes: "Did the media cover (and/or do they now realise) how powerful a tool the Net can be in terms of resisting and even changing the media's spin on a story? My own feeling is that ... once more of the masses are wired, the potential to usurp the mainstream media will turn out to be revolutionary."

I find a discussion about how useful the Internet really is. There is a quote lifted from the American columnist Dave Barry: "Eventually people realised that the Information Superhighway was essentially CB radio, but with more typing."

Drop in on rec.climbing, the worldwide climbing newsgroup, to see if there is any more up-to-date news than has been on the wires, where the death of Alison Hargreaves has been effectively confirmed. There is not. But there is an enormous discussion around the topic "Alison Hargreaves: was she a hero, or simply irresponsible?" There are 69 responses. It would be impossible to moderate a TV or radio programme in this way and give everyone their say.

Stop by bermuda.general. There only seem to be about three people in Bermuda with an Internet connection and none of them knows the result of the referendum.

Kevin Campbell, writing the Internet column in eye - a free paper based in Toronto - says journalists are used to government and business burying critical data in a sea of irrelevant facts. "The general public can now share the same wondrous experience by reading newsgroups - especially unmoderated, ill-defined newsgroups," he remarks. I know what he means, having spent six hours mining for gold and turning up mostly sludge. Decide to search for Mike Tyson. Instant gratification: ESPN, the US cable sports network, has an online page which has just been updated (10.44 pm east coast time). Tyson allegedly received a death threat on Friday night. I hit a goldmine. An electronic service called ClariNet offers almost instant updates from the wires. The oddly-named clari.news.trouble (which has stories, mostly from the standard news wires) offers the stories about Hargreaves that have been on the wires for some time. But the difference is that you do not have to wait for tomorrow's paper. You could be sitting up at 4.30am, like me.

AP reports the Tyson fight should be starting about now. AP says Tyson won in the first round. Now will it be on the Net? The security guard, passing on his rounds, mentions that Tyson won. But is it on the Net? Yes it is, under "News summary": updated at 12.26am on the East Coast - just four minutes ago.

Charles Arthur