Jane Wakefield: Mahir mania hits Net, BT underwhelms

Mahir saw his Web site rise to glory, while BT fee announcement met with bafflement and yawns

There is a man on the Net who likes sex and wants to 'invitate' you to his home (women preferred). He lives in Turkey, enjoys ping pong, playing the accordion and lounging around in skimpy swimming trunks and has a boundless enthusiasm for his fellow surfers ... "I KISS YOU!!!!!!!" he says on his homepage, which is rapidly becoming the most popular on the Net.

No, this is not BT boss Peter Bonfield, but a far greater celebrity -- Mahir Cagri, the latest cult hero of the Net, a moustachioed Turkish Lothario with a panache for sports, casual wear and a slightly unhinged grip on the English language. Mahir's story illustrates perfectly how surfers can latch on to an idea and run with it like no medium has previously allowed.

Like many a Net enthusiast, Mahir set up what he describes as "a simple and beautiful homepage" with his "personal specialities": "I like sport, swimming, basketball, tenis, volayball,walk..... I LIKE SEX," Mahir tells us frankly. He has a multitude of careers too -- "jurnalist, music and sport teacher, I make pscology doctora," He confesses to being a whizz behind the lens. "I like to take foto-camera (animals, towns, nice nude models). And, as if the snap shots of him in a variety of "provocative and luxurious" poses were not enough he describes himself. "My tall 1.84 cm (6.2 feet) My weight 78 kg. My eyes green .. I live alone !!!!!!!!!"

From little acorns, as the saying goes. Mahir's clarion call of "I LIKE SEX!!!!!" struck a chord with surfers across the globe and by the end of last week over one million visitors had logged on to his site. Tribute sites appearing by the dozen, showing an animated Mahir playing ping pong with a hamster, Mahir with tumescent swimming trunks, Mahir singing "She can stay my home" on MP3.com.

Mahir mania had truly hit the Net.

As Mahir so succinctly puts it, "Somethings in life happen bayond ones' control. Just like having an accident, winning a price, or having something fall on your head while walking through", he found himself swept up in a tide of popularity. Interviews with an Internet magazine and "the media of Sweden" followed. Mahir claims some of the more lurid suggestions on his site, most obviously I LIKE SEX!!!!! were placed there by a Mahir imposter. So outraged was our Turkish hero he went to the public prosecutor's office and talked to no less than three prosecutors. But, as any one who has had dealings with the court system would agree, Mahir found them to be "incurable in that free imaginary area" of cyberspace, and although he later contacted the culprit and took back control of the site his grievances were left unaddressed.

Whatever the truth, the big question now is how far Mahir will be corrupted by his new-found fame. Like ex-spice girl Geri Halliwell, Mahir has been nominated as a Goodwill Ambassador to the UN, a job he is keen to do. In an interview with ZDNet Friday, Mahir reveals he wants to use his position to "solve problems of starving people and share world with everyone" and for "all people to be brothers and sisters without any selection of country". But at the same time he is keen to recoup royalties for his MP3 record and is considering putting adverts on his site.

Mahir will be doing a lot of conscience-searching in the next few weeks and whether he decides to stay true to his original simplicity or to take the money and run, it will at least remain irrefutably true that he "LIKE SEX!!!!!!!"

There is a company on the Net that gives no indication of its enjoyment of sex and doesn't seem keen to invitate you to their home. The company is, of course, BT and it is rapidly becoming the least popular site on the Net. In the unlikely event that BT published its home page in broken English it might run something like this. "Welcome to my home page, I like money, I makes lots money, I annoy you !!!!!!"

As predicted, they have finally made the long-awaited announcement about Internet charges but you can be forgiven for remaining severely underwhelmed. An incredibly complicated arrangement will see ISPs entitled to a BT port for £140 a month, which will give them eight hours per port per day of unmetered use. If they put 14 users on each port that works out to about £10 per month per user -- but that's just what the ISP pays, they'd likely add something to that, since ISPs, like BT, generally like to make a profit. Multiply by ten and divide the number you first thought of might be an easier way of explaining it.

If you are confused then you are not alone. The media were certainly baffled with virtually every national newspaper misreading the announcement and excitedly informing its readers that they would be entitled to eight hours free Internet use every day. This would be a great offer, but it's far removed from what BT is actually putting on the table. In reality the best a user can hope for is 18 hours a month of Internet time for £10, and even then it will have to be a very beneficent ISP that offers it as it would make no money from the deal. £15 or £20 for 18 hours Internet is closer to what ISPs would actually offer.

BT predicts the proof will lie in the pudding, claiming that many ISPs will take up its magnificently generous offer and pass it on to the great British public. When the offer opens in December, I predict very few ISPs will be leaping on the bandwagon. Instead, expect a lot of lowered heads and shifting of feet as ISPs politely decline. "I'd love to, but really I couldn't," "Thanks for the offer, but I'm washing my hair," "I really respect you as a telco but I think it would be better if we didn't get too friendly," etc, etc.

But far be it from me to suggest that BT is happy for the public to be given the wrong end of the stick. Blinded by science and pulling the wool over your eyes are just two phrases that for some reason come to mind. Now I wonder why?