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Lost in Cyberspace

Two new programs show variety available on the 'Net

This article was originally published on April 27, 1999 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

When folks ask, "What will the Internet be like in 5 or 10 years," it's always struck me that the only rational answer is, "Don't know – wait and see."

If the waiting part is a drag, the seeing can be pretty neat – especially when programmers with imagination find new ways of using the Internet.

Hasbro email Games
Hasbro Interactive Em@il Games – Scrabble, Battleship, Grandmaster Chess
Hasbro Interactive: 1999

JetAudio Plus featuring JetRadio
Samsung America: 1999

A for instance: Hasbro, the giant toy conglomerate, has a new series of two-player games that use e-mail to allow you to play various games against a friend without having to hook up in real time. Much as folks used to play chess by correspondence in the old days, with Hasbro's new Em@il Games you can now play chess (or Scrabble or Battleship) by e-mail. Simply make your move, and send it off to your correspondent's e-mail address.

One real strong point of Hasbro's Em@il Games it that only one of you need purchase the game – when the other person receives your first move via e-mail, it contains a link to Hasbro's Web site where they can download a free client version that allows them to view your move and make their own. And although they can't start their own game with the client, you have to figure that's a pretty good marketing tool for turning new customers onto your products.

Another selling point is the variety of games in the Em@il line – the chess game includes checkers and backgammon, and in addition to the Battleship and Scrabble out now, there are also golf, poker and football scheduled for release in '99.

A real weakness, though, is that Em@il Games don't use your existing e-mail program to send the moves – it uses a proprietary server run by Hasbro, a proprietary server that Hasbro's disclaimer says is only guaranteed to be up through October of this year. Should Hasbro choose, they could discontinue that server and the games would then be unplayable – a major disappointment should you finally get Uncle Mort to fall for that old Boris Spassky move you've been saving all these years only to have the server removed before you can get him into checkmate. Hasbro could perform a nice bit of customer service by issuing a free upgrade that would allow you to designate an e-mail program (AOL, POP-3, Outlook, etc.) to handle the messaging should they drop their server down the road.

But the low cost of the games (about $15), the high-resolution graphics (unnecessary in this instance, but still nice), and the variety available make Hasbro's Em@il Games a neat use of Internet connectivity.

In another clever use of the Internet, Samsung – the electronics giant – has licensed the JetAudio Plus system from Cowon Systems, including JetRadio.

JetRadio doesn't use a new server type like Hasbro, or invent a new technology. Instead, it takes an existing use of the Internet – RealAudio feed of radio stations on the 'Net – and gives it a better, more usable interface.

What JetRadio does quite well is allow you to organize a giant bookmarks list of RealAudio stations on the 'Net, and group them however you like: dozens of default settings come prearranged by station format and geography, but play with it anyway you want. It's really more of a well-organized database than a radio, but the interface LOOKS like a contemporary radio dial – solid human engineering there.

Weaknesses in JetRadio? Well, it only accepts RealAudio Netcasts, and an increasing number of stations now offer higher quality MP3 streaming signals. Hopefully the folks at Cowon will add that into the next version.

Another shortcoming is that many of the hundreds of preset stations from around the globe can no longer be found at those locations. But that is easy enough to remedy – simply point your browser to or Yahoo's radio page and find all the new Netcasts you could ever hope for. Once you have their locations, simply add them to JetRadio.

It's pretty odd listening to Melbourne, Australia's afternoon drive-time radio chatter while eating breakfast stateside, but fascinating as well. And until the Milosevic regime cracked down on it, an independent Belgrade station was providing a unique perspective on the Balkan war.

Just a few years ago, only those with shortwave radios could have picked up signals from around the globe. Now, any station with a netcast is available to all – another way the 'Net continues to shrink the world.