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A Test Of Your Online Disguise

Bits & Bytes

A Test of Your Online Disguise

Who is that masked man you met last night in the chat room? You might never know for sure, but a game developed by a Georgia Institute of Technology student could help you make a better guess. It explores a question as old as Internet chat itself: Exactly how much of your personality can you show--or shield--online?

The free, 20-minute game attempts to test whether the right questions will expose poseurs. Players assume an identity, say, male, female, black, white, French, etc. Other players' questions help distinguish the fakers from those acting out their real profiles. Sample question: "What's the first thing you notice about a man?" The real woman answers: "The shoes. Men treat their feet like they treat their girlfriends." The impostor? "His pants. You can see his butt and his wallet!"

At the end of the game, the other players vote on who's who. And then--at least in theory--everyone tells the truth. Game developer Joshua Berman says some people can easily mask their personalities, while others can't fake it at all. Want to see for yourself? Check out David Rocks; Edited by Timothy J. MullaneyReturn to top

Tapping the Power behind the Throne

In a lot of offices, everyone knows who really runs the place. So it's no wonder someone decided to use the Net to make administrative assistants' lives easier. That someone turned out to be ex-WebTV Networks Inc. executive Jamie Rapperport, whose, a portal for secretaries, goes live in November.

The 10.5 million secretaries in the U.S. control as much as $200 billion in purchasing. So the site will feature stories, bulletin boards, software tools, and, of course, e-commerce aimed straight at them. "It's the No. 1 job for women, and they have no resources to help them do a better job," says Rapperport. Aberdeen Group Inc. analyst Tim Minahan says OfficeClick has an especially good chance to capture e-commerce from small companies, where assistants often double as office managers.

The idea has attracted $7.5 million in venture capital and 40 e-commerce partners, such as Federal Express, Staples, Office Depot, and Office Max. Like Rapperport, they're betting the hand that runs the office rules the purchase orders.Edited by Timothy J. MullaneyReturn to top

Soon, Bookshops Will Be Book Printers

Is going to make the local bookshop go the way of the Dodo? Not if Hewlett-Packard Co. and startup Sprout Inc. have their way. HP's laser-printer unit is working on print-on-demand gear that will let stores print books they don't have in stock. Once a wide range of books is available in digital form, "this can let you have any book that ever was," says Ira P. Goldstein, chief scientist for HP's LaserJet group.

Here's how it works: If a book isn't on the shelves, customers hit the "print" button at an in-store kiosk. HP's printers and a database of e-books maintained by Sprout do the rest. "It takes about 10 minutes to print a 300-page book--just enough time to go get a Venti Mocha," Goldstein says. Other equipment will bind the pages into a book. The package, due out next year, will initially cost about $30,000 per store.

Pat Cunningham, vice-president at Engineers Book Shop Inc. in Atlanta, says instant printing will let stores match Amazon's vaunted inventory. And publishers won't have to guess how many books to print. That will be especially valuable when selling older titles.By Peter Burrows; Edited by Timothy J. MullaneyReturn to top

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