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Like many lawyers, Kenneth Starr, the so-called independent counsel investigating Clinton's zippergate, used WordPerfect 6.1 for his report, which he supplied on CD-ROM to the House of Representatives. It was then converted to HTML, but some mistakes were made with the conversion and the versions first published on government sites were lacking some of the footnotes -- and, even worse for Starr, some footnotes that had been marked as not to be included, were included. Corrections were swiftly made. Reports conflict as to whether the Web held up under punishment from salacious surfers, but majority opinion is that it was not too serious -- only a few government servers crashed for short periods of time. Failure rates in accessing the key sites reached nearly 90 per cent for a time, and download speed was sometimes half what might be expected on a normal day. The large number of mirror sites were responsible for spreading the load. Even a broken Worldcom fibre optic cable, caused by a train derailment in Georgia, did not cause significant problems. Most nauseating perhaps (the use of cigars apart) was the hypocrisy surrounding the excuses used by the likes of Netscape and AT&T for posting the text of the report. They were just doing it to alleviate the stress at government sites and as a public service, they said, but few doubt that surfers were just curious about what pubic services were provided in the White House. They would say that, wouldn't they? The White House site put up two documents in defence. From a broader perspective, the saga has clarified the role of the Internet in news dissemination. Where pictures are unimportant (or disappointingly unavailable), television doesn't work well. Although Real Networks and Broadcast.com had reporters read the report, it was dull. Broadcast teletext via PBS was not needed as there was no gridlock. The downloaded report allowed readers to skip to the parts that interested them. ®

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