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A rumble in the online book jungle

Chip off the old wafer that he is, my son Vermel tends to stay out of the sun.

3 min read
Chip off the old wafer that he is, my son Vermel tends to stay out of the sun. So I grew suspicious this week when I noticed he was spending most of his prime daylight hacking hours outdoors. I took advantage of one of his noon outings to rifle through his belongings, and was startled to find a sizable cache of videotapes in a corner of his room.

"Mon Dieu!" I cried. "The Handycam!"

When I confronted the aspiring videographer, he answered each of my queries with a slick "no comment" and then noted that I had violated our household privacy policy. But after plying him with extra privileges and promises of transactional immunity, I succeeded in convincing him to fork over the tapes. It ain't no rumor, folks: San Franciscans are not--I repeat, not--wearing underwear this season.

It just goes to show that appearances are only Skin-deep, and that although it's tempting, one shouldn't judge a book by its cover. You can't even judge a bookseller by its URL these days, as anyone who has paid a visit to "barnesnnoble.com" knows.

The spurious Web address--not to be confused with that of the bookseller at "barnesandnoble.com"--appeared to be a trick and a blatant violation of trademark law because it led to Amazon.com, at least until Skintrepid researchers started working the phone yesterday.

Readers of this column already are familiar with the perils of online trademark shenanigans. The last time this came up, we caught AOL with its hand in ICQ's keyword cookie jar, and the next thing we knew the online giant was forking over $400 million to buy the injured messaging company. A coincidence? You tell me.

Nor are we shocked when online smut sites set up shop under the typos commonly entered in the URLs for Microsoft, Yahoo, and the New York Times. (You figure out the typos--this is a family column!) But Amazon isn't exactly the type of Internet outlaw to be playing this variety of dirty pool, is it?

Of course not. "Barnesnnoble.com" is the registered property of a Hawaiian ISP by the name of FlexNet. Owner Del Wong--who was unavailable for comment--has been amassing a small empire of Internet real estate, including the choice domains "barnsnnoble.com," "islandbabe.com," "islandguys.com," and "islandboys.com." Ah, life in the tropics!

Is there any relationship between the ISP and the Amazonian bookseller? Not anymore. "This site was a member of our associates program until 4:39 p.m. yesterday, when we terminated the account, which we had been told would use the url of 'www.flex.com,'" writes Amazon.com spokesman Bill Curry.

"There will be no payment to this site for any books sold, and we are taking action to block referrals from the site to our store. This is not the way we want to do business, and we thank CNET News.com for calling it to our attention." All in a day's work, mon frere.

Meanwhile, the Hawaiian trademark menace has unredirected to Amazon, but its moment in the sun is not over. Now it's linking to Disney!

That's not all on the subject of URL hanky-panky. As the Merc's rumormixtress has reported, domain squatters and pranksters never rest. This time, the victim is the group of Microsoft adversaries including Netscape and Sun that goes by the name of ProComp.

Seems the Internet-savvy group neglected to register its own name, and now "procomp.org" belongs to a very witty Robert Bork fan. One word: "Behave!"

With a pile of videos to get through this week, I don't have much time to dig up rumors. See if you can bare it all for me, baby, yeah.