David wants you to join him. At BowieWorld (www.davidbowie.com)

The Green Room Where Every Surfer Wants To Be
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Everyone knows that on-line megalomania is one of the by-products of the world wide web. Such is its democratic nature, that any tech-head schmuck from here to eternity can build their own web site devoted to the quirks and foibles of their (all too often) stultified personality. But if you really must erect a site to yourself, there are ways to avoid accusations of narcissism, and the results can be rather endearing. There's a schoolgirl from Connecticut called Laura whose site is dedicated to "the greatest soldier of all time", Mark Antony, as part of her class's history project. Her home page details her infatuation with her subject, and her matter-of-fact, stilted text as she gives us the historical lowdown, is infused with girlish enthusiasm. The result is engaging, because it is personal, revealing but entirely unselfconscious. But, if I'm honest, it is only of passing interest to the busy surfer.

There are many netheads like Laura. David Bowie, for instance. Now David's hobby is, of course, himself, and for $5.95 a month we can enter "BowieWorld" (www.davidbowie.com) to indulge our fascination with him. To be fair, the thin white one offers a public art gallery where members can submit their own drawings, poetry, photos, etc, and a 3-D environment where we can leave messages for David (as we are encouraged to call him), and shop in his online store.

As befits a legend in his own website, Bowie's home page contains a mission statement. This site, it proclaims, is all about "interactivity and community". The cybersong contest is a case in point. Contestants were asked to complete the lyric to Bowie's latest tune, "What's Really Happening". To play it, you have to click on the song icon, and then download some pretty hefty software in order to hear it. There are 25 finalists, and we are invited to judge their efforts. I liked Barbara Barg's (BestPoet@aol.com) who seemed to have captured the essence of the whole endeavour. "Foolish little humanoids/ They know not what they do/ Crucifying everyone/ In the name of god".

But mindful of Laura's history lesson, David delivers one too. "In the Beginning," his history link tells us, "David Robert Jones was born in Brixton." And so on. The latest testament is a Christmas card from David and Iman with a graphic of a transparent amoeba adorning it. Very seasonal. Surprisingly, Bowie's designers have not come up with amazing graphics, black is the background colour of choice, text is in a barely legible purple type. The home page shows a pair of false teeth, possibly an allusion to David's recent dental overhaul. Anyway, the history pages go on for ever, detailing the confusion of the "masses" who "weren't quite sure what to make of Low", and his 1977 "foray into film - Just a Gigolo - all [the] 32 Elvis Presley movies rolled into one".

His art gallery features works by favourite artists as well as his own extensive oeuvre, and members are encouraged to build their own portfolio by saving images upon their hard disk. However, this proprietary impulse that Bowie is so avidly fostering is something that does not gel with the fundamental properties of the net. What is the point of staring at the image of a lithograph of Iman on your screen over and over again (even if it is signed by David and Iman), when there is a world of images to surf and so little time to download them? Similarly, what is the point of getting stuck on one massive ego when there are so many more riding the crest of the web?