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Leaving Las Vegas

Week of September 3, 2001

'Such a muddy line between the things you want and the things you have to do'
 -- Sheryl Crow

There are shills on the Internet. And they make a lot of money, and they make even more money for their patrons. Internet shilling is big business.

A shill is not the same as a salesman. With a salesman you know the pitch is coming, you're ready, you put up your guard. When you see spam drop into your emailbox, you react immediately. 'Oh no not more spam' you might whisper to yourself.

But the art of the shill is to completely disguise the intent. A shill comes on as your friend, as an expert of some sort, as a person who has answers to important questions. But a shill doesn't care about you, and everything the shill does is targeted towards one goal only: parting you from your money.

In Las Vegas, prostitutes often double as shills. After all, shilling is just another form of prostitution. They're given a lot of chips to squander away, to prime the pump as it were, to get everyone else playing and losing their money. On the Internet, a shill cannot encourage behaviour in that way. A shill has to point you in the direction of a product.

'Lights so bright, palm sweat blackjack on a Saturday night'
 -- Sheryl Crow

Shills are easy to spot. They're really pressed to keep conversation on a single topic. Ask them anything out of context and they'll dry up, act almost panicky. Shills will never be rude, even when they'd be justified in being so, for they really don't care about you or anyone or anything, only their money. If you've insulted them they won't notice, won't feel a thing. To them you don't even exist. You're just more money in the bank.

Post something completely irrelevant to a news group controlled by a shill and you'll be completely ignored. Come back on topic and the shill will immediately ignite, almost explode.

Internet shills cannot work on commission; they're paid something up front and then expected to perform. It's not unusual either to see less than respectable businesses shill themselves - it saves money. But the really good shills - the ones known in the industry for being able to bring in the big bucks - are hard to come by and command unbelievable fees.

So be on your guard. You might meet someone on IRC or in a chatroom or on AIM, someone who seems very nice. And after a while they start talking about a great software product that they've bought and that you just have to have too.

Or you might visit an Internet resource site where a particular product is being touted and manages to get its name into every second sentence.

Be on your guard. The people you have the most to fear from are the ones who ask you innocently, 'You don't see me selling anything, do you?'

If you look twice your answer will be yes.

'I'm banging on my TV set
 and I check the odds and I place my bet
 I pour a drink and I pull the blind
 and I wonder what I'll find'
 -- Sheryl Crow

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