The Dilemma of Darius Dane

'Twas a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon as Darius Dane, ace reporter, detective extraordinaire and newshound supreme set out from his house to get the Sunday papers. He hadn't gone more than a few paces from the warmth and comfort of his cosy little house before his keen senses picked up the sound of silent footsteps following him. The hardened challenger of the most ruthless criminal elements that he is, Darius Dane did not deign to look back nor give any sign that he was aware of being shadowed. Instead, he slowed his steps a mite and began slowly scanning the surroundings while his brain with computer precision ran through all possible ambush points with the aid of his photographic memory.

With almost an audible click, the analytical engine that was Darius Dane's brain spewed forth the best possible ambush point and without a moments hesitation, Dane set his attack in motion. Glancing into the reflecting surface of a nearby shop window, he took advantage of a momentary distraction of his pursuer and years of intensive physical training and gymnastic exercises enabled him to leap like a tiger into a shadowy alleyway and lay in wait for his stalker not unlike the cheetah lies in wait at an African waterhole for the unsuspecting gazelle. The hunter passed by in confusion, searching for Dane and he leapt out and dragged his pursuer into the alleyway thus reversing the trap - the hunter had become the hunted!

"Oh I say! What do you mean by this outrage!" were the first words of the mysterious stranger.

Then he got a better look at his attacker and he gave a sputter of outrage.

"Darius! What in tarnation do you think you are doing? Jumping at people on the road as if you had gone stark, raving mad?"

Darius Dane took a better look at the man he was holding by the scruff of his neck and gave an embarrassed smile and then looked at his hands which were clutching the stranger's neck as if they didn't belong to him before hastily releasing the man who turned out to be an oldish gentleman in a neatly tailored suit.

The man gave Darius a withering look and spoke:

"Daydreaming again, eh? One day you are going to cause somebody some bodily harm with all your fantasizing, boyo! Remember that I told you this!"

"I am really sorry Mr. Hogsbottom! I guess I got carried away …"

"Someday they will carry you away, sonny - in a straightjacket! Don't tell me I didn't warn you!"

"Yeah … yeah … why were you following me anyway?"

"I just wanted to ask you something and I came after you and here you jump on me like a monkey at a banana seller!"

"Ok! Ok! I said I was sorry now didn't I?" snapped Darius. "So what was it that you wanted to ask me about?"

"I was browsing the Internet just now and was trying to find some information that I wanted and I was struck by the fact how difficult it is to find anything on the Net …"

"Yeah, there are over 150 million pages on the Internet already and it is supposed to top 1 billion by the year 2000 - that's a lot of material to search …"

"I didn't mean the sheer mass of information on the Net thought that is of course a problem with so many pages coming up and most of the pages not yet updated - I am told most of the search engines are months out of date and millions of pages behind … Oh, by the way, can you explain how these search engines "update" pages? I just heard the term but have no idea what it means."

Darius Dane gave a snort of disgust.

"You are typical of the people of today! They blindly parrot jargon but never bother to learn what it means. You know what a search engine is right? It's a site on the Internet which allows you to find other sites on the Net which has documents which contain certain words or phrases that you give the search engine. How do you think the search engine finds any of these pages on the Net?"

"I assumed that it went through all the sites when you ask for a match …" said Hogsbottom in a subdued voice.

"Are you crazy? Do you know how much time that will take? Actually, these sites contain a database of other sites and their contents. When the engine updates a page, it just re-reads the contents of a given site to take any changes into consideration. Incidentally, if you put up a new site and want a particular search engine to include your site in their database, you must submit your site to the engine - it does not automatically detect your site as a new one and add it to its database."

"I never knew that!"

"There are so many little things like that." said Darius in a superior tone of voice and then queried "That wasn't what you were going to ask me, though - was it?"

"No. What I meant to ask you was … I noticed that most search engines are idiots when it comes to searching."

"What do you mean 'idiots'"?

"Well … when you do a search, usually you come up with a lot of false matches because the engine can't distinguish between, for instance, a bill, a bill, a bill, a bill and a Bill."

Darius considered for a moment and said:

"What you mean is that a search engine can't distinguish between an invoice, a draft of a law, a bird's beak, a currency note and a guy who's trying to take over the software industry, right? This has been an inherent problem with search engines because they basically do nothing more or less than search for and match specified collections of characters without any regard for the meaning of those character combinations."

"I know that! But what can be done to overcome this problem? That is what I want to know!"

"Now you are talking! Actually, this problem has been discussed quite a lot recently and the easiest solution would be for everyone to publish a 'meta content' file on their site."

Hogsbottom looked as if he was drowning in a sea of information.

"Meta content? What in tarnation is that?"

"It is simply a small file which contains information about the contents of a site in a standard format which allows a search engine to categorize the contents of a site without it having to go through every single word in every single page on a given site."

"Basically a file which contains content about content, right?"

"Yep! There is only one problem …"

"The people who set up the web sites have to put up the meta content file and they have to make sure that it is accurate."

"Exactly! And the thing is, there are already sites which contain meta content files in a standard format - it is known, originally enough, as the Meta Content Format or MCF."

"So how come we haven't heard anything about it?"

"That's because this format has been developed by a guy named R. V. Guha who works for Apple Computers. The problems is that Apple is not a major player on the Internet arena and Internet giants such as Netscape and Microsoft have not given the MCF much attention."

"What's wrong with these people? Don't they see that this can help the whole Web community a lot?"

Darius sighed in a world-weary manner.

"Yeah, yeah … they know all about that but the bottom line is what's in it for them? If they can't make money out of it, then they aren't interested. For instance, Microsoft has just announced something called the Channel Definition Format or CDF which is supposed to make search engines obsolete because it uses push technology instead of pull technology."

"Huh? Push, pull - I am beginning to feel as if I am in the middle of a tug of war!"

"That's exactly what it is - a tug of war between Microsoft and Netscape to see who will control the Internet!"

"Yeah, but what is this push and pull technology business?"

"Well when you use a search engine and find the site you want, that is called pull technology because you are pulling the information you want out of the Net but Microsoft is proposing to automatically send information you want to your computer without you having to do any work. They propose to push the information you want to your machine - that's what the CDF is all about."

"So how is this pushing thing to be achieved? Can it be done on existing sites?"

"The way you set up your site will probably be entirely different and if Microsoft's format gets wide acceptance, Microsoft will probably go into the business of pushing content for others - a way for Bill Gates to become even richer!"

Hogsbottom spat in disgust.

"Money, money, money! Don't they think of anything else?"

"That's the way the world is. What can you do?"

With those philosophical words Darius left the fuming Hogsbottom cursing the mercenary attitudes of the world today and strode forth in search of new adventures, excitement, danger and of course, the Sunday newspaper.

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