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A Web Site For Rebels With A Cause

Bits & Bytes


WHEN PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON VISITS China in late June, expect an outcry from Chinese dissidents who object to the Communist government's human-rights abuses and repression of democracy. Not in China, of course. Those protests, though, can still take place--at the Digital Freedom Network Web site, which features writings from dissidents, such as Wei Jingsheng and Bao Ge.

That's just one example of how the Digital Freedom Network is using the power of the Web to promote free speech and put the spotlight on repressive governments around the world. Backed by telecom carrier IDT Corp. CEO Howard Jonas, DFN was launched on May 5 with a simple goal: to publish censored writings and speeches from around the globe. So far, it has posted works from Cuba, Kenya, North Korea, and Vietnam, among others.

DFN is updated regularly to highlight censorship issues. For example, it is tracking down plays by Ratna Sarumpaet, whose writings have been banned in Indonesia during the recent turmoil. For the ninth anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Square crackdown, it posted a letter from dissidents asking the Chinese government to recognize the movement as pro-democracy. The site,, shows how powerfully cyberspace can break barriers.Peter ElstromReturn to top


WHEN NETSCAPE COMMUNICATIONS CORP. RELEASES an early version of its Communicator 4.5 browser to an estimated 5 million testers next month, a smidgen of code from Full Circle Software Inc. will go along for the ride. While Netscape's updated browser delivers a host of new features, Full Circle's Talkback software may end up stealing the show. The first-of-its-kind technology automatically reports software bugs to program developers via the Net. That could transform the way software is tested.

Until now, software makers have relied on volunteer testers of early version programs to record problems and send in lengthy reports. Then, product designers have to pore over the reports, trying to make sense of often incomplete information. This has made the testing process long, expensive, and faulty. And the all-too-common result has been software that is seldom bug-free.

With the Mountain View (Calif.) company's technology, when something goes awry, the software works like the "black box" on an airliner, making a detailed account of what happened and, subject to the user's approval, sending the results to the software developer. There, server software analyzes the info and issues reports that can be used to fix problems.Steve HammReturn to top


THESE DAYS, ANYONE CAN ADVERTISE on the Internet. The hard part is making those Web ads more effective. That's where Personify Inc. comes in. The San Francisco-based company has come out with Personify Essentials, software to help Web site operators figure out which groups of visitors are the most frequent users and buyers. Using that data, Web businesses can better target ads or offer promotions to the right demographics.

Wine merchant Virtual Vineyards used the software to pinpoint its best customers. The company started by creating five groups, running from novices to experts, based on data gathered from the visitors and where they went on the site. Then the company tracked who was buying. Contrary to the assumption that aficionados were the biggest buyers, it turned out that wine novices were making 82% of the purchases. That helped Virtual Vineyards tailor its ads to beginners. Personify Essentials starts at $5,000 for monthly subscriptions or at $75,000 for a one-time licensing fee.EDITED BY HEATHER GREENReturn to top

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