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Monday, December 29, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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Technology Briefs
Spam e-mail takes its toll on nation's productivity

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Unsolicited junk e-mail accounted for almost $20 billion in lost productivity over the past year, according to Basex, a New York management and consulting firm.

"It's gotten to the point where my mother was talking about it. And she doesn't even use e-mail," said Jonathan Spira, the firm's chief analyst. He says the cost is doubling each year and is about $600 to $1,000 per Internet user.

The cost can be attributed to the impact of managing, filtering, deleting and processing spam, along with trying to prevent viruses from infecting workplace computers.

Spira said he thinks efforts to fight spam are making headway, "but it's going to get worse before it gets better."

Online merchants struggle to meet onslaught of sales

Analysts at Keynote Systems have dragged out the "perfect storm" cliché to explain what it calls the "mediocre" performance of many online merchants' Web sites.

The analysts' index of e-commerce transactions showed the average response time for completing a transaction was 14.77 seconds, while the success rate for getting the task done was 94.88 percent.

"Many sites in the index have delivered average to below-average performance for consumers attempting to purchase gifts online," said Roopak Patel, Keynote's senior analyst.

He said a "perfect online holiday shopping storm" occurred and nearly buried some online merchants. He cited snow in the Northeast after Thanksgiving and last weekend's San Francisco blackout, as well as "consumers' increasing comfort" buying gifts online.

"These factors combined to drive record-breaking online shopping visitors and revenue, but disappointing online performance from some of the largest retailers," Patel added.

First direct computer link between Russia, China due

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Soon scientists in the United States, China and Russia will be able to collaborate over a new high-speed computer network that includes the first direct computer link across the Russia-China border.

The network, separate from the public Internet, will enable scientists to transfer huge volumes of information more quickly and collaborate in real-time on high-tech experiments.

Russian and U.S. scientists have had direct computer linkage for about five years, but Russia and China often exchange scientific information by meeting in Chicago, said Greg Cole of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), one of the leaders of the Little GLORIAD project.

Finishing touches are being made on the Sino-Russian cable, and the global network should see its first traffic Jan. 5. The network rings the Northern Hemisphere, connecting Chicago with Amsterdam, Moscow, Siberia, Beijing and Hong Kong before hooking up with Chicago again.

The National Science Foundation contributed $2.8 million to the project. Russia and China invested similar amounts, Cole said.

The NCSA, based at the University of Illinois' Urbana-Champaign campus, is no newcomer to the Internet. It was there, 10 years ago, that software developers created Mosaic, the first browser that combines graphics and text on a single page, opening the Web to the masses.

Record companies' venture gets Justice Department OK

The U.S. Justice Department ended a 2-1/2-year antitrust investigation of the major record companies' joint online ventures last week, stamping official approval on the flourishing market for Internet music.

Federal officials said the growing number of legitimate online music sources for consumers proved that Sony Music, Universal Music Group, Warner Music, BMG and EMI Group didn't suppress competition with smaller rivals in 2001 when they formed MusicNet and Pressplay.

Although both services were faulted for initially steering users away from making unrestricted copies of songs, they gradually have added features preferred by users.

In addition, the labels have licensed music to a host of new retailers including Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store, BuyMusic and Napster 2.0.

Many more offerings are expected next year from the likes of and Microsoft, said R. Hewitt Pate, the assistant attorney general in charge of the antitrust division.

Americans' use of Internet expands to more activities

Internet users are expanding online activities beyond e-mail and Web surfing. The number of Americans who accessed their bank accounts online at least doubled to 34 million people between 2000 and 2002, according to new research by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Another 36 million people downloaded music files, a rise of 71 percent, and online auction usage also doubled.

"Despite this growth in activity, the growth of the online population itself has slowed," the report said. "There has been only a small uptick in recent months to leave the size of the online U.S. adult population at 63 percent of all those 18 and over."

More than three-quarters of those between the ages of 12 and 17 use the Internet.

The Federal Communications Commission said the number of high-speed access lines grew 18 percent in the first six months of this year. Broadband cable connections to homes and businesses grew 20 percent while telephone company-provided DSL access rose 19 percent.

The total number of high-speed lines in service was 23.5 million at the end of June. Cable lines accounted for 13.7 million connections, and DSL lines were 7.7 million.

Compiled from Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services, The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times Washington Post News Service

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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