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APRIL 28, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 16 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK


Illustration by Emilio Rivera III

PULSE
Holy Modems
The Internet gets religion, e-mail pulls a disappearing act and tough guys holster it
Compiled by STUART WHITMORE

This gives a whole new meaning to the term "religious service." Often criticized for being mired in the past, the Catholic Church in the Philippines is taking a leap of faith into the digital future -- by setting itself up as an Internet service provider. It's a crowded space, as the Philippines has 180 ISPs already. But the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has a unique business plan it thinks stands out from the crowd. Consider this trinity of killer apps:

First, faithful subscribers will be spared the embarrassment of stumbling on some of the Web's less holy pages. A team of 12 maintains a database of forbidden sites (180,000 and counting) to filter out smut, gambling, explicit displays of homosexuality and devil worship. Second: none shall be forsaken. Users in even the most remote corners of the land will be able to log on and those who don't own a PC can just head for the house of the nearest bishop. The administrators of all 79 diocese are to set up public terminals at their residences, Internet cafe-style. Third: the CBCP will not fleece its flock. "We just want to make enough to pay our costs," says Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, assistant secretary general of the CBCP. "It is our Jubilee gift to the Philippines."

CBCPNet booted up its operations inApril by selling $6 Internet access cards that pay for nine hours of Net time. That is about half the going rate. A dialup account will cost $12 for membership, then $10 for every 15 hours of use. The CBCP has spent $50,000 on hiring engineers and setting up its hardware (the bishops chose Linux over Windows NT, in case you were wondering). Fighting porn and wiring the nation is only the start. "We're thinking of using the Net for transferring technology to farmers and fishermen and improving disaster response," says Quitorio.

Muslims need not feel left out. They've got a portal to call their own. Launched in March, IslamiQ.com is the first network of financial websites aimed specifically at the Muslim community. IslamiQ offers personal financial news and advice with a difference: its investment tips comply with Shariah law -- which among other things outlaws interest and dealing with companies that make their money in alcohol or gambling. The London-based website hopes to tap into a market worth an estimated $150 billion a year and is planning to offer online stock trading in the near future. Who said that the rewards of virtue were only spiritual?

Reported by Alan C. Robles/Manila

Go On Geek, Make My Day
I always wanted to be a tough guy, see, like Bogart in the movies. But what chance do I have? Those fellas keep a snub-nosed .38 and half-drunk bottle of bourbon in their desk draw. All I got is a Palm V and mobile phone. Lame. Then a dame walks into my office. Says she's from the e-holster company and knows what I'm looking for. She pulls out a piece. Fast. Too fast. "Easy, sister," I tell her. "Relax," she purrs and places it on my desk. It's a shoulder holster all right, but that's no Magnum in the pouch. She flips it open and pulls out a cellphone and PDA. I try not to look excited. "Yours," she says. "For a price." Always a payoff. "It's $59.95. Or a hundred bucks if you want it in leather." Lady, I say, you just made yourself a sale.
www.e-holster.com

Make It Go Away
Remember that e-mail where you compared your boss to a dribbling gibbon? It may come back to haunt you. E-mail has a habit of hanging around long after you hit the "Delete" key -- as Bill Gates found out when his threats to "crush" the competition were thrown back at him during Microsoft's antitrust trial. But now you can erase electronic epistles for good. ZipLip.com, a free Web-mail service, programs messages to self-destruct 24 hours after they are read. ZipLip never actually sends your e-mail. The firm keeps it encrypted on their server for up to 30 days and sends the addressee an invite to come and look -- just like they would visit a Web page. A day after the message is read, ZipLip deletes it. Now if only they could make your boss disappear, too.

Surfing By Numbers
China's websites put the digits in digital
What's in a name? Numbers, apparently -- at least if you're a Chinese website. With 1.3 billion potential pairs of eyeballs, the mainland market is a dotcom's dream. Only one problem: How do you make your web address stand out in a country that the roman alphabet never conquered?


Photograph by David G. McIntyre for Asiaweek; Photo illustration by Simon Wan

The solution for many Net firms is to use the universal language of numbers. While the technology to register domain names with pictograms is now emerging, digit-filled URLs abound in China. Four of the top-10 websites have shunned letters for numerals, including leading portal Netease, which uses www.163.com.

But if you thought the numbers were chosen by a lottery, think again. There's method in the math. Take youth lifestyle portal 51go.com. In Mandarin five-one, sounds like "I want." "Once people get why it's named 51go, they think it's funny and never forget it," says Byron Constable of Madeforchina.com, the firm behind the site. "That's what we want."

Other sites use similarly inventive numerology. Said fast enough, the name of search engine 3271.com sounds like "whatever" in Mandarin. Online mall 8848.net measures itself by the height of Everest, which straddles China's border. And 163 is the familiar dial-up number for China Telecom's Internet access service.

Number crunching is the quickest way to build a brand, insists Saimond Ip, CEO of portal 36.com (it translates as something like the Toy Story catchphrase "to infinity and beyond"). "Using numbers means anyone can get to your site," says Ip. "Even if they can't read." Just as long as they can count.

Reported by Maria Cheng

Write to Asiaweek at mail@web.asiaweek.com

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