By David Plotnikoff

HAVING been bombarded with the phrase ``digital frontier'' on a weekly basis for the past year, you may well ask: How long until this so-called frontier goes away?

Sorry, pilgrim, but the frontier metaphor is going to be part of the Internet vernacular for some time. Like its cyberspace sibling the ``digital highway'' metaphor, it's proven to be both durable and versatile. By way of example, we note the recent proliferation of cyberspace ghost towns -- file-servers and Web sites that are bursting at the SCSI cords one day and either unplugged or cleaned out the next. How do boom towns go bust overnight? A typical scenario goes like this:

Someone with good in their heart and a little time on their hands creates a service celebrating their particular obsession. Could be Hiroshige woodblock prints, rotisserie baseball software or maybe even pinups bootlegged from the Farm Equipment Illustrated swimsuit issue. They put the material up on their work or school Internet server and tell a few friends to dial in. Those friends tell a few of their friends and maybe even post the site address to a few Usenet newsgroups. Before you can say ``trouble in Router City,'' the site is overrun by heavy traffic. Then, when the address gets added to some hot referral sites on the Web, the traffic increases tenfold.

Before long, ungrateful users begin to deluge the hapless creator with demanding requests. Farm Equipment Illustrated sends a bigfoot letter that says, ``Stop propagating copyrighted material or you'll hear from our legal team of Hector, Harass, Badger & Bullyrag.'' And just when the creator thinks things can't get worse, the system overlord at the site wakes up and realizes there are 10,000 strangers dialing in in the dead of night, tying up all the system resources. That's it. Time to pull the plug. Overnight, the font of virtual pleasure runs dry. If the site continues to exist at all, it's stripped to the bare walls. Perhaps there's a notice that says, ``Due to unforeseen traffic and the misbehavior of a few users, I've been forced to move these files and shut down the site. E-mail me later, and maybe I'll tell you where it went.''

How can this tragedy be averted? One way is to play favorite file-dumps and Web sites close to the vest, as one would do with favorite fishing holes. That good buddy you share an address with may just be the one responsible for posting the address publicly (in effect, poisoning the well for everyone). A better approach, one that doesn't run counter to the sharing spirit of the old-time Net, would be a password system whereby guests would have to e-mail the owner and apply for a free visitor's pass before they can get the goods.

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NAY, BOB, HE NATTERED: You may have heard about Microsoft's new ``Bob'' interface, a cartoon world designed to protect computer phobics from the horrors of Microsoft Windows. (Windows, as you may recall, was supposed to shield users from the horrors of Microsoft DOS.) If the radio spots for ``Bob'' are any indication, this dip presides over a very creepy world. The radio ad with the folk-music theme promotes friendliness in all digital affairs and features a smarmy voice-over: ``Bob is always glad to make a new friend.'' It led me to think immediately of ``Bob Roberts,'' the banjo-strumming, hard-right candidate portrayed on the big screen by Tim Robbins. Some ad exec with a very dark sense of humor really did a job on Microsoft this time. And I'll bet Bill Gates doesn't even get it. As for a user-friendly alternative to the headache that is Windows, we already have one: Macintosh.

SHE'S POST-FEMINIST, POST-APOCALYPTIC AND POSTED TO THE WEB: Fans of the cult comic book ``Tank Girl'' searching for behind-the-scenes material from the current movie should dial into http://www.mgmua.com/tankgirl.

A LITTLE SURFING MUSIC, PLEASE: The Kronos Quartet -- the acclaimed Bay Area chamber-music group devoted to thoroughly modern works -- has a Web site that features a discography, concert schedule and discussion area. Be sure to see the ``what's new'' and ``related resources'' pages for links to modern-music sites such as the Internet Cello Society and the Philip Glass home-page. Kronos is at http://www.nwu.edu/music/kronos.

ALL WET: If you have a desire to know exactly how wet a winter California really had, all the stats are right at http://wwwdwr.water.ca.gov/. ``The California Water Page,'' a new service by the state Department of Water Resources, also features links to nine other water-related pages. The water moguls could do two things to spice up what's a rather, ahem, dry presentation: more prominent links to other state and local agencies, and a real-time camera trained on one of the agency's more scenic pieces of real estate.

THE REAL DEAL: Many magazines talk a good game on the Net but fail to deliver the goods. A glowing exception is Film Comment, the bimonthly journal published by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The site -- at http://www.interactive.line.com/film/cover.html -- features the complete text of the four most current issues. A guaranteed good read for anyone who cares about film.

A SAD PRECEDENT: The Usenet newsgroup soc.net.people -- the human lost-and-found of the Net -- has been the repository for some heart-wrenching postings. But none can top this recent missive. The names have been deleted, for obvious reasons. ``(Name deleted) you have a granddaughter,'' reads the topic line. The body of the message: ``Hi Dad. If you are out there anywhere, (last known residence Mountain View, CA) I would love to see you. It has been a long time. You have a wonderful granddaughter who would love to meet you also. Love, (Name deleted).''

THEY OFF'D THE MAGIC DRAGON: Netscape Communications quietly did away with its way-cool Mozilla mascot recently. The beloved reptile, which graced the company's home-page, has been replaced with a soul-less six-panel illustration more suited to a serious (read: overstarched) corporate image. Oh, sure, they say ``he's around here somewhere.'' But if you want to see him back in his rightful place, e-mail editor@netscape.com and tell 'em.

Write David Plotnikoff at the San Jose Mercury News, 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, Calif. 95190; phone (408) 920-5867; fax (408) 271-3786; or e-mail Plotnikoff@sjmercury.com

--Virtual baseball: Arizona Diamondbacks playing on Net. E850

Published 4/07/95 in the San Jose Mercury News.

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