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Web Site Owners Use Sniper's Infamy to Draw Response

Two Web site owners are capitalizing on the worldwide notoriety of the recent sniper attacks in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., to determine how quickly the Internet and its users respond.

The men, a Californian and a Marylander, have registered two sites, Marylandsniper.com and Beltwaysniper.com, for different reasons, but both were interested in collecting feedback.

Neither said they were trying to exploit public interest in the shooter, who has killed at least seven people and wounded two others since Oct .2. And neither site contained advertising.

"It's just kind of an experiment to see what happens," said Erik Henrickson, a 30-year-old San Francisco computer programmer who registered Marylandsniper.com Oct. 9, a week after the shootings began.

Marylandsniper.com is the first domain name Henrickson has registered. The Maryland man who registered Beltwaysniper.com did so using false contact information, because he worried about becoming a target himself.

The 45-year-old network administrator said he wanted to test how quickly his Web site's name, Beltwaysniper.com, could be found on the Internet.

"I must admit . . . part of the reason was a more practical reason than a sensational one," he wrote by e-mail.

He hoped to "cause a slight stir in the Internet community," he wrote, but said he was surprised by the amount of attention he's received.

Beltwaysniper.com was offline Friday morning, but the owner said it should be running again as soon as a new Internet Protocol address is distributed.

Henrickson has posted a few images related to the shootings, including a map of shooting locations and a photo of police searching for evidence in Prince George's County.

He has also linked to two sites promoting conspiracies that he called "crazy" - one from an "underground" psychic named Sollog and the other discussing "invisible agents" - to test the patience of those visiting the site.

"I wanted to see how long people would read," Henrickson said.

Marylandsniper.com expires in two years unless Henrickson renews the domain, but he said he might turn the site into a historical site.

"I don't really have the time or resources to be the be-all and end-all (about the sniper story)," he said. "I thought I would see what the visitors wanted to add to the site. I don't know what the lasting power of the site's name is."

There are more than 27 million registered World Wide Web addresses, according to VeriSign's Global Registry Services.

"It's not unusual for people to rush to grab current events," said Dan Hess, vice president of comScore Networks, which measures Internet audiences.

"They sometimes do, or sometimes don't attract significant traffic."