Digital graffiti


By Kurt Kleiner WEBSITES carrying wrong information cry out for a rebuttal—but until now there’s been no way for disgruntled surfers to make their views known. Now help is at hand from a new program that lets you stick your own comments on a website for anyone to see. The free program, called Third Voice, is a plug-in for a Web browser. It tracks the website you’re viewing, sends you all the comments anyone else has ever made about the site, and lets you add your own. “Up until now the Web has been one-way communication. We wanted to ensure interactivity, and allow people reading to answer back,” says Eng-Siong Tan, chief executive of Third Voice, which is based in Redwood City, California. Third Voice doesn’t make any changes to the website itself. Instead, the company transmits information about the site to your computer as you surf. Your browser overlays the information on your screen, so that it looks as though it is part of the site. Small markers show where a comment has been posted, and clicking on the marker brings up the comment. So, for instance, people unhappy with a company’s product might post their complaints at the company’s website. Or music fans might hold discussions on top of a favourite band’s site. People can also make notes which only they can see, or limit the discussion only to members in their own group. You can download the Third Voice program quickly (from www.thirdvoice.com) because it is only 300 kilobytes long. The comments themselves are stored on a server complex maintained by Third Voice, and are transmitted when the user decides to look at them. Because the program is free, Tan says the company will make its money by selling advertising on its website, and through sponsorship from webmasters who want to promote discussion on their site. The program is a good tool for generating unfettered discussion on the Web, says Jonathan Zittrain, director of the Center for Law and Information Technology at Harvard. Although many website owners are likely to object to things people are posting about their sites, Third Voice should be legally protected in the US under “common carrier” rules—just like an Internet Service Provider—as it is not responsible for the content of messages people write,
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