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Friday, 28 January, 2000, 11:06 GMT
Ten web sites to change the world

A web site to change the world?


The internet is one of the buzzwords at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Fittingly then, the organisers promised to name 10 web sites that will make a difference. Claire Doole reports from Davos

Ten websites that will change the world is a tall order even for Davos which prides itself on spotting the trends that will make the world a better place.

But as it turned out, the web experts assembled by the Davos organisers where somewhat overwhelmed by the vastness of the internet - and its technology.

In the end, they failed to give a list of 10 websites. Many of the sites that cropped up were not the real movers and shakers of the internet world, but rambling lists of those that caught the eyes of the panellists.

'Sorry there was an error'

First up was the World Economic Forum's own insider's guide to Davos. Unfortunately it proved less than user friendly.

No one could actually log on.

Every attempt elicited that infuriatingly polite "sorry there was an error, we can't proceed with the request because there is no object named logon". The creator of the website, Lance Knobel, sat in the audience and cringed.

The - mostly seasoned - Davos participants gave him the benefit of the doubt that the website just like the forum would lead to a better world.

The web, a power for the good?

What's the best website for this wap phone?
Other suggestions from the panel of cyber experts ranged from the educational to the commercial. Lyric Hughes, president of China Online, USA, praised forestworld.com, a site selling environmentally-safe products made from the world's forests.

She also gave high marks to the White House site for boosting global understanding of government institutions.

Education, the panellists agreed, was the key to ensuring the cyberspace world did not just benefit the rich and powerful. One of the sites mentioned was the African Virtual University, a project sponsored by the World Bank.

Peter Armstrong, director of OneWorld International, took the opportunity to promote his site www.oneworld.net which links up over 600 non-governmental organisations. This service, he said, had already radically changed the world.

At the height of the Kosovo crisis, an Albanian NGO registered 75,000 names of families in refugee camps. Nine thousand families were reunited through the site.

Internet wars

But the future isn't all that rosy. Jonathan Zittrain, executive director of the "Berkman Centre for Internet and Society" predicted internet wars.

Some of the most powerful sites - Icann.org and maps.vix.com/rbl - may look boring. They are designed by geeks for geeks.

But according to Zittrain, the masters of these sites are the sheriffs in a lawless world. These sites rule the world of domain names or literally zap unwanted e-mail into the voids of cyberspace.

If your e-mail appears on the black list of maps, the Mail Abuse Prevention System, you can be sure that in up to 60% of cases it will never arrive.

It's known in the trade as "blackholing", and there are multiple black hole lists with the black holers, apparently, fiercely black holing each other.

Zittrain, though, predicts that soon there will be few kids on the block or at least just the toughest internet sheriffs in town.

Among the obvious winners of the e-commerce world, Amazon.com and Blue Mountain Art got a mention.

But after Davos' stab at describing the power of the internet ended, most participants must have felt about as frustrated as when clicking on a broken link on a website.

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