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Pierre has his conspiracy theories, I have mine

On the Net, misinformation wants to be free.

On the Net, misinformation wants to be free. Just ask Pierre Salinger, who last week liberated a particularly apocryphal, not to mention stale, Net rumor before the national media. Salinger, a retired septagenarian journalist and presidential adviser, went public with a story blaming the U.S. Navy for downing TWA Flight 800--a rumor familiar to many Net heads and one that I had personally encountered about two dozen times since August through email or Usenet.

Eventually a CNN news crew informed him that he'd been duped, and unlucky Pierre crawled back into retirement, leaving a wake of chortling journalists behind him who obviously felt that their B.S. radar would keep them from making the same awful mistake. Let's hope so. The Net is sodden with half-truths, gossip, and downright lies. I do my best to search for the good gossip--accurate tidbits that entertain and inform you --rather than amplifying the bad. Salinger got suckered, but it could happen to anyone who lets their guard down, particularly a Net newbie.

The Navy may not have shot down Flight 800, but that doesn't mean there aren't other conspiracy theories out there. Egghead recently declined to carry a photo editing application called LivePix from Live Picture on the grounds that the box for the product was too ugly. (And I thought ugliness was a prerequisite for software boxes.)

My operatives think Egghead's sudden obsession with packaging is a pretext and that the retailer may be feeling pressure from Microsoft to hinder LivePix. It seems the Redmondians have a competing product, Picture It!, working its way towards shelves.

Searching for the truth is hard. AltaVista can't find my name on the Internet, much less the truth. Readers of this column are aware of the crushing blow dealt my ego by a vanity search I performed on AltaVista. Well, the search engine still finds no instances of my name in its oceanic index of the Net, even though one of its competitors does.

Likewise, readers have complained to me about their own AltaVista searches, saying the engine doesn't deliver up-to-date results. It looks as though AltaVista, praised for its comprehensiveness, is having trouble crawling the Net. Maybe Pierre Salinger can teach AltaVista how to crawl. I avoid crawling whenever possible. Don't avoid me; drop me a rumor.