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 September 24, 1999

Watch out for others posting on your site

Do you have a Web site? Do you know what sort of information is posted at your Web site? Of course you do. After all, you, or perhaps someone you hired, posted that information there. And no doubt you look at the site now and again.

But let’s imagine for a moment that someone else has placed information on your Web site — information that is invisible to you — someone you haven’t given permission to, and who perhaps is saying something you really don’t want said at your site. Someone who has posted obscenities, or perhaps is bad-mouthing your company or products, or perhaps even a competitor who’s telling people that they’d be better off visiting his site.

I’m not talking about a hacker breaking into your site. No, what I’m referring to doesn’t take anything like that level of knowledge or sophistication. I’m talking about people downloading a program, opening your site in their browsers, and using the program to post notes at your site.

It could happen. It’s already happening to many sites. And although it’s unlikely that it’s happening at your site quite yet — so far there aren’t enough people using these systems to have a real impact on the average Web site — who knows what the future will bring?

I’m talking about systems such as Third Voice (www.thirdvoice.com). Systems that combine chat, bulletin boards and Web browsers. When Third Voice users open a Web site in Internet Explorer, they may see little note icons inserted into the Web page. If they click on a note icon, a little box pops up over the browser. It may say something like “Grandiose Old Poops,” a note I saw at the CNN site posted in response to the question “What does GOP mean?” It might contain a link to a rival site (as did a note I opened at Yahoo), or it might contain a message such as “You should dump AOL and get a real provider like Mindspring! AOL is too damn slow!” … I don’t need to tell you where I found that note.

To the user, it appears that these notes — or, at least the icons used to open the notes — are actually embedded into the Web page. Strictly speaking, they’re not, though — the Web page’s source code is untouched. Rather, the Third Voice program is programmed to add the notes to the Web page, in the appropriate places, once the page has been displayed inside the browser.

And the Web-site owner sees what? Perhaps nothing, no indication of anything out of the ordinary. He may be completely unaware that these notes are “on” his site. Unless he’s using Third Voice, he won’t know what people are saying.

Some sites have been hit hard by Third Voice, and there’s already a backlash. The Scientology site blocks Third Voice users from entering — it uses a little piece of JavaScript to determine whether Third Voice is installed, and if it is, it shunts the user over to a page explaining why he’s been blocked.

In fact, if you’d like to learn more about blocking Third Voice, there are a couple of sites you can visit: the Simply No Third Voice page (www.kallbackafrica.com/simply/notv.htm) and an unidentified page

at Michigan State University. (www.cse.msu.edu/%7Ebowersj2/).

Of course, as soon as you figure out one way to block these things, you discover that there’s another way into your site that you hadn’t thought of. So I might as well tell you that blocking Third Voice may not be enough. There are several other, similar, products. There’s Odigo (www.odigo.com/), Gooey (www.getgooey.com/), Utok (www.utok.com/), and esgear (www.esgear.com/).

These programs don’t work in quite the same way as Third Voice (some may not allow you to post notes that stick on your site … I haven’t checked them all), but they all have something in common — the ability for groups of people to “discuss” your Web site among themselves through one technique or another. Some allow you to set up real-time chat sessions with people visiting a site, for instance.

Will these products last, or will they be forced off the market by lawsuits, as irate Web-site owners sue for slander. Personally, I don’t think we’ll see lawsuits forcing these products out. Certainly, some people will use these tools for slanderous purposes, but that doesn’t mean the software publishers are responsible, anymore than AOL, CompuServe, or Delphi are held responsible when people slander on their discussion and chat systems.

That doesn’t mean that these tools are here to stay, though. Many sites will do what they can to block these products, and in any case, many people will tire of the drivel that they find in the notes. In the same way that chat sessions seem to be 90 percent garbage (95 percent?), a very large proportion of the notes dropped into Web sites seem to be pretty worthless rubbish; to the extent that another significant portion are messages bemoaning the fact that people are ruining a good thing by posting stupid messages.

Peter Kent is author of “Poor Richard’s Internet Marketing and Promotions,” the sequel to “Poor Richard’s Web Site.” Visit

Do you have a Web site? Do you know what sort of information is posted at your Web site? Of course you do. After all, you, or perhaps someone you hired, posted that information there. And no doubt you look at the site now and again.

But let’s imagine for a moment that someone else has placed information on your Web site — information that is invisible to you — someone you haven’t given permission to, and who perhaps is saying something you really don’t want said at your site. Someone who has posted obscenities, or perhaps is bad-mouthing your company…

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