CLICK to go to Mario's Cyberspace Station!
CLICK to go to Mario's Cyberspace Station!


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December 16, 1997


Eurobytes

By BRUNO GIUSSANI

He Likes Specialty Web Guides, and His Specialty Is War

Flip through any survey of Internet users and you'll see that the difficulty in finding specific information usually tops the list of complaints.



Credit: Mario's Cyberspace Station

Mario Profaca

New users flock to the popular search engines, just to become bewildered by a flood of documents whose relevance to the query often flirts with absolute zero. Filtering technology and "personal agents" are still in their infancy.

"In its current stage and as it gets bigger, the Internet becomes less interesting when you search for something in particular," said Mario Profaca.

"Software robots and spiders are better and faster but this only results in even larger indexes," he added.

Profaca thinks that "the future is in specialized Internet guides dealing with one specific subject" much like his own Mario's Cyberspace Station.

Here is a Web site about war and peace, the Russian mafia and the Peruvian guerrilla movement, money laundering and paramilitary groups, unclassified information and covert actions, germ warfare and ethnic cleansing, terrorism and mind control, electromagnetic emanations and the ebola virus, plutonium smuggling and computer espionage, the Japanese Yakuza and spy satellites, counterintelligence and chemical weapons, white collar crime and drug traffic, mobsters and public health.

Yes, the world is a sick place and Mario Profaca is its webmaster.

A 57-year-old Croatian journalist, Profaca started working on his Web site in the summer of 1995.

Four years earlier, the Serbian-led Yugoslav National Army had occupied several regions in eastern Croatia. After years of haunting battlegrounds around the world as a war correspondent (in Nigeria, Mozambique, Indochina, Cyprus and Bangladesh) "I didn't need to travel away from home anymore to do my job," he said in an interview last week.

As soon as he discovered the Web, Profaca started putting together a reference page on the war he was witnessing.

More than two years and a peace agreement later, the sequels of the war in former Yugoslavia still take up a fair share of the Web site. Profaca "covers" the activities of the U.N. forces, monitors the operations of the NATO aircraft, and has links to all kind of related articles and documents.

Credit: Mario's Cyberspace Station

Ratko Mladic, Radovan Karadzic and Milan Martic appear on wanted posters.


A special section devoted to war criminals is intended to keep alive the memory of the atrocities that have been committed in Bosnia and Croatia, and the pictures of the "wanted" criminals rotate on the home page.

Yet condemning those crimes and calling for justice in the former Yugoslavia is the only subject on which Mario Profaca himself expresses his opinion.

The rest of the site is an incredible and well organized collection of links to documents, reports, surveys, classified and unclassified materials, newspaper articles, statistics, manuals, books, pictures, television footage on every imaginable subject related to conflicts around the world and to the dark sides of today's society regardless of their origin.

The CIA's Guerrilla Warfare Handbook is on the same list as several "communist" guerrilla documents.

Profaca has elevated Web plundering to a form of art. To be sure, he doesn't copy any documents on his site, he just links to them. But his collection of hyperlinks is so vast, his sources so diverse and the choice of the linked pages so pertinent that he's created a truly new Web resource that goes well beyond the original content he leverages on.

It is no accident if journalists, students, professors "and, I think, people from public administrations and the intelligence community" are among the most regular users of the Cyberspace Station, Profaca said.

Profaca is so effective in jumping on a news story and putting together a catalogue of Web resources that he often gets asked about his affiliations. "Are you encouraged by Tupac Amaru to maintain this Web page?," an American reporter queried during the hostage crisis in Peru, last year. "What's your connection with the Kurds?" asked another.

Having spent years on battle spots has given Profaca the necessary background to understand the issues he covers and put them in perspective. But he also insists in "listing all interesting sources related for example to a specific country, no matter if this source is 'friendly' to its government or not," he said.

Profaca finances the site with his own money and doesn't accept advertising.

For first-time visitors, the site is surprising. The home page looks much like a pilot cockpit where you can pick the server closest to your location: along with the original site hosted by the University of Zagreb, the Cyberspace Station is mirrored on computers in the United States and in New Zealand and will soon be duplicated in Portugal as well.


Credit: Mario's Cyberspace Station

"Devils are the most suitable creatures to guide you through hundreds of Web pages of wars, terrorism, crimes, and atrocities," Profaca said.


Little cartoon-like characters guide visitors from page to page. Profaca made them look like little red devils after getting several messages such as "you made a hell of a site," but also because he thinks "devils are the most suitable creatures to guide you through hundreds of Web pages of wars, terrorism, crimes, and atrocities," he said.

The problem with the little devils and other graphics is that they make it difficult to access the site for people with less powerful machines and poor bandwidth.

Although Profaca claims to keep graphics very "light," there are too many of them on the Cyberspace Station's pages close to 50 on the home page only, half a dozen of which are animated, which, combined with Java applets, sound files and other gadgets, can hobble a computer.

While Mario's Cyberspace Station is a highly useful resource, it may not be accessible to those with less-powerful computers, and older browsers may tend to freeze. So be warned.


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Bruno Giussani at eurobytes@nytimes.com welcomes your comments and suggestions.



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FIVE PAGES WITH 250+ AWARDS
AND RECOGNITIONS!
1 2 3 4 5