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Bad news spreads fast

The first week of 2006 was embarrassing for Wal-Mart. Deepak Mankar tells you the webside story.

business Updated: Jan 17, 2006 20:28 IST

"It has always been a characteristic of our planet that, besides eating and sleeping and squabbling and reproducing, we are also producing knowledge." Who said this? Stevan Harnad. He is a scientist at Universite du Quebec a Montreal (Canada) and "a vocal advocate in changing how we go about publishing all that knowledge". "Electron-borne information is clearly transforming academic publishing; not just affecting how journals and books are assembled and distributed, but stirring up the culture that surrounds the creating and sharing of new knowledge. Some of these new manifestations look like hot-rodded versions of things we knew in the past (online journals, eBooks); while others (like research repositories, wikis, RSS feeds) are novel variants that may ultimately live or die, but meanwhile are teaching us lessons about how our research community really works." This is the incisive, perceptive and pithy comment I found posted on January 6 at Gary Price's weblog, Resourceshelf He says it all in a few well-chosen words, doesn't he?

WEBSIDE STORY. Bad news spreads fast.

The first week of 2006 was embarrassing for Wal-Mart. Bloggers noticed its retail website suggesting that people buying The Planet of the Apes and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory DVDs may also like to buy DVDs featuring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., black boxing legend Jack Johnson and black actress Dorothy Dandridge. All hell broke loose as they spread the word to the world at large. "Perceived racism is like anthrax to a company: potentially deadly and hard to clean off. The graveness of the situation was reflected in Wal-Mart's quick public apology, in which it said it was 'heartsick' over the incident," writes Frank Ahrens ('Wal-Mart Sees How Fast Bad Press Spreads Online'). The unfortunate linkage was owing to an error in the 'mapping technology' that "takes product titles - books, CDs, DVDs, etc. - and thematically links them to other products". This technology was first used by the pioneering online retailer,

JUST DESSERTS FOR SPAM? $11.2 billion in damages.

A Florida resident was found guilty of sending more than 280 million unsolicited emails offering debt consolidation and mortgage services through the network of a small US internet service provider (ISP), CIS Internet Services based inIowa. The punishment? $11.2 billion as damages and no going on the Internet for three years. "This judgement against a spammer is undoubtedly the biggest we have ever heard of," comments Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "Spam is not just a nuisance for individual computer users who find their inboxes clogged up with unwanted mail but for ISPs who are hit in the pocket by having to pay for the bandwidth to deliver and store hundreds of millions of messages." P.S.: In 2004, CIS was awarded over $1bn from 300 spammers for sending up to 10 million spam emails in a day.

FIREFOX NEARS 10%. Close to the critical mass?

"Firefox is very close to hitting a critical mass of 10%. which could mean a more rapid adoption rate. But IE won't go away quietly as major and long-overdue upgrades are expected to be released in 2006," said Vince Vizzaccaro, executive vice president of marketing and strategic relationships at NetApplications, a provider of technologies which monitor Web sites. This was when Mozilla Foundation's Firefox Web browser gained ground during December, ending the year as the tool of choice preferred by 9.57% of Web surfers. "Although first-generation Firefox 1.x accounted for the bulk of the open-source browser's market share, the newest edition, Firefox 1.5, which went final in late November, gained ground in December. The last month of the year, said NetApplications, Firefox 1.5 was used by 2.5 percent of surfers, an impressive increase over November's 0.3 percent," writes Gregg Keizer in '1 In 10 Now Use Mozilla's Firefox'. Stuart J. Johnston's 'Firefox Held Nearly 10 Percent Share at Year's End' is at NetApplication's browser market share is here:

HOLLYWOOD AT HOME. Pay-per-viewing movies.

Last week, this column had mentioned that US consumers seem to be most receptive to TV-related technologies (DVRs and digital cable and the like). San Mateo, California-based Akimbo is the first company to deliver digital-quality video on demand over the Internet direct to users' TV sets. It just announced that it had added Hollywood pay-per-view programming in collaboration with MovieLink, an online download movie service that's co-owned by major film companies. "A lot of people have asked us, 'When can we get the latest movies?' Now we can offer the latest movies - and Turkish television," Jim Funk, Akimbo's vice president of marketing, told the Mercury News. So far, Akimbo was offering a $9.99-a-month service that gave subscribers access to 7,000 programs, including cartoons, Major League Baseball, and international shows. Now it's major new releases as well.

BY POPULAR DEMAND. Ten 2006 predictions.

Oracles aren't always right. LED Digest's Edwin Hayward who has been doing 10 predictions for the New Year since 1999 (last year he missed the bus: his e-mail got lost in transit) has his 2006 ten on offer. RSS feeds going mainstream and 'disappearing', spam receding, DVD releases almost paralleling theatre releases (in the US, I presume), cellphone cameras eating into the digital camera market, old blogs getting abandoned faster than new blogs getting started and blogging getting more businesslike are the ones that caught my eye. By the way, he repeats one of his totally inaccurate 2005 predictions: "6. Rolling the dice again, at least one of the following behemoths will be acquired / merge (though not necessarily by or with each other): Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Google."

MORE CRYSTAL BALL GAZING. Seven 2006 predictions.

Meanwhile, ClickZ 'expert' columnist Rebecca Lieb has her own list of seven (mainly US-centric?) predictions for the New Year. The usual but plausible suspects include more and more video, RSS advertising, blog networks hitting the big time, search getting even bigger and pay-per-call mobiles.

DIFFERENT STROKES. Newsbreak looks backward and forward.

Community networks and user-generated content, i.e., blogs and podcasts, feedback mechanisms, reviews, ratings, tagging, social networking and wikis. For Paula J. Hane, Information Today, Inc.'s news bureau chief and NewsBreaks' editor, that's what caused a huge impact in the online world. In the 'Trends to Watch in 2006', Google gets a prominent mention with what she terms "a telling comment from IDC's 2006 predictions", which is "Google is the next - and a disruptive - information platform". Other trends to watch: continuing globalization efforts by information companies; "tremendous growth" for China and India ("hot markets"); "growth in online events" ("more use of Web conferencing, online courses, as well as blogs and podcasts that closely cover events that you can't attend in person"); launch of new search engines; "Open Source … gaining momentum"; XML continuing to "grow in importance for information exchange/handling"; book content continuing to make its way online; mobile computing continuing to be "increasingly in demand" ("the killer app in my estimation - Google maps and satellite photos on a cell phone"); continuing momentum "for open access in scholarly publishing"; "big aggregators"(Thomson, Elsevier, ProQuest, etc.) continuing to launch more value-added services for their markets.

Those of you who are interested in the origins of American words may find what they're looking for at:

That's all for now though there's plenty more out there. Join me again next week, same place.

Copyright (c) 2001- 2006 by Deepak Mankar. All rights reserved. Deepak Mankar, an advertising practitioner on the creative side since 1965, is also intensely passionate about the web and web content creation. Read his online articles at Website: You may e-mail him at

First Published: Jan 17, 2006 20:28 IST