Graphics files account for a hefty percentage of Usenet news, the Internet's giant collection of bulletin boards. The newsgroups with lots of graphics usually have the word "binaries" somewhere in their name, and several of them are devoted to the kind of material that has prompted Congress to consider legislation censoring the Internet.
The newsgroup alt.binaries.nude.celebrities, for example, offers some pictures that actually fit the bill, and others that are more cheesecake than hard-core. There's also text - requests ("dire, urgent, immediate request: Sandra Bullock"), debate over the authenticity of some of the more provocative photographs (does that body really belong to that head, or is this some sort of digital composite?) and recurring posts seeking information on how to file and view the photographs, which must be turned into ASCII files for distribution in this manner.
If you can't find what you want posted to Usenet, you can sometimes find it on a mailing list or World Wide Web page. However, be skeptical of offers that sound too good to be true; after seeing dozens of messages from users asking to be put on a mailing list for nude photos of Hatcher, I responded as well and have yet to receive a reply.
Glancing at the nude celebrities group and the companion alt.binaries.pictures celebrities (there is some overlap) is one way to take a reading on the culture of the Internet; the stars here tend to be younger and/ or the product of movies and TV shows devoted to fantasy and science fiction.
Milano, Hatcher and Alicia Silverstone are far more ubiquitous than Julia Roberts. One Disney devotee recently uploaded eight provocative drawings of Jasmine, the heroine of "Aladdin."
Occasionally, beefcake photos are posted or requested - recent subjects included Pitt, Bakula, Tom Cruise and some Miami Dolphins - but by and large, the content reflects the overwhelming percentage of men vs. women on the Internet.
This holds true to a lesser extent in cyberspace's high-rent districts, the big commercial services such as America Online and CompuServe, which do have a much higher percentage of women. A publicity still of Hatcher wrapped in a Superman cape has been downloaded more than 28,000 times; in contrast, a picture of Michael Richards as Kramer in "Seinfeld" has been grabbed by 5,600 users.
Anna Valdez, on-line services manager for Hollywood Online, which creates computer press kits and supplies movie content for the major on-line services, said the most popular downloads currently are Marina Sirtis, who played Counselor Deanna Troi in "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and Brad Pitt in ''Legends of the Fall."
"Science fiction probably draws the largest crowd," Valdez said. "Even syndicated shows like 'Forever Knight' have a huge following on line."
The "Highlander" films are much more popular with the on-line crew than with the public at large, Valdez added. "We even have a Christopher Lambert forum, if you can believe that."
Not surprisingly, Hollywood Online's most successful press kit to date was the "Star Trek" package posted to Prodigy. At the time, it was the only material of its kind on the service, and 80,000 people downloaded it, Valdez said.
However, while the star photos on the commercial services generally reflect what the studios who pay for the content want to promote, the Internet celebrity binaries groups are much more eclectic because the users supply the content.
Nowhere in the commercial on-line universe are you likely to run into an exchange along the lines of one that surfaced recently on alt.binaries.nude.celebrities, when one user posted a message seeking photos of a British model named Nikki Lewis.
He was rewarded with a reply that purported to be from Lewis herself, complete with directions to a World Wide Web site with her photos.
Was the post really made by Lewis? Who knows, and really, who cares? Like so much that you run across in cyberspace, it was a kick to read.