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dot life Monday, 26 August, 2002, 08:11 GMT 09:11 UK
When bright ideas bite back
Warchalk symbols, BBC
Warchalking has become an international movement
Next time you have a bright idea, keep it to yourself. Once it's on the net, your life may not be your own.

To the well worn maxim that some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them, we must add a new category.

Some, unlucky ones, have it bestowed upon them by the internet.

Am I Hot or Not?
Spread through e-mail recommendation
All it takes is the forwarding of an e-mail to your friends or the mention of a good idea and suddenly you can find yourself the leader of an international movement.

It's impossible to predict what will prove popular, largely because the net is usually as capricious as a spoilt debutante - hard to court but easy to catch the eye of.

And when net fame does strike, it is not always welcome.

Writes and wrongs

A case in point is web designer Matt Jones, the man responsible for how BBC News Online looked when it launched. Since then, he has invented "warchalking", which he recently described as a "curse".

Matt Jones
Can't talk now, got a website to update - Matt Jones
Warchalking involves inscribing chalk symbols on a pavement or wall to reveal the existence of a wireless network node that anyone can use.

Before Mr Jones knew, it the idea was being mentioned on hundreds of weblogs, was written up by the web, not least Then the printed press followed, and he found himself appearing on television and radio.

It utterly disrupted his life and became a burden rather than a pleasure to be involved with. He was forced to find other people willing to take it on so he could step back into the shadows.

Out of control

So much so that he declined to comment on the sudden fame for this article.

Ted Kekatos
Ted Kekatos gets involved with his job
There are many others that have suffered when their good idea suddenly becomes a web phenomenon.

Ted Kekatos thought up the idea for a day to celebrate system administrators, those unsung heroes that keep your computer network running.

The idea was only circulated among his friends and co-workers but it soon got loose and spread far and wide. There are even electronic cards available you can send to a sysadmin you think needs some support.

But it has meant Mr Kekatos reluctantly sacrificing some of his privacy by being picked out in this way. Again Mr Kekatos was not entirely happy with the compromises it forced upon him.

Systems administrator
Sing his praises, not those of Ted Kekatos
"This has become a little scary," he said.

Jonah Peretti can sympathise with the plight of both Mr Jones and Mr Kekatos.

While a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Mr Peretti took advantage of Nike's service that lets customers order customised sneakers with a word of their choice stitched on to them.

The word that Mr Peretti wanted inscribed on his footwear was "sweatshop" as a way of commenting on the factory conditions of many people who make the Nike gear.

Stitch up

Nike declined to fulfil Mr Peretti's order despite his eloquent defence of his choice in several e-mails he exchanged with the company.

Mr Peretti forwarded the e-mails to a few friends and the rest has become history. There is a good chance that the chain of e-mails landed in your inbox in February 2001 when they were current.

Nike trainer, BBC
A spat over customised trainers became a web phenomenon
You may have even seen the e-mails reprinted in national newspapers or on anti-globalisation websites. The meme is still circulating.

One write-up of the series of events branded Mr Peretti "the poster boy of guerrilla media" albeit a very reluctant one.

Mr Peretti has said it was never his intention to be a spokesperson for an ideology or a political guru.

Frankly, there must be few of us who would want to be such a thing and certainly not without a lifetime of preparation.

Let's be careful out there. Next time it could be you.

Weely guide to getting buttoned up

See also:

23 Jul 02 | Technology
01 Jul 02 | dot life
06 Aug 02 | Technology
26 Jul 02 | Technology
04 May 01 | UK
04 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
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