Meanwhile, on the internet...

Earth's biggest ever live webcast kicks off with mundane matters - fiddly downloads
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The Independent Culture

Step one: go to

Step one: go to

www.msn. co.uk/madonna. Step two: download Windows Media Player Version 7. But my dated, yet still ubiquitous, Windows '95 software can't handle it, and there's no pointer to a substitute.

A link leads to an event organiser, Mediawave, and a phone number. There's even a technician at the other end, who confirms Version 6.4 will suffice. One 10-minute download later, it's working. But I'm still exhilarated that, at the appointed time of 8pm, a member of Technophobes Anonymous such as myself can log on and get a moving picture. With sound. You think, this is simple. This is even cool.

Oh, it's Texas. Worse, tonight's warm-up act look mighty pixelated, and enlarging the image beyond pocket TV-size is a no-no. It's like watching through a wet window pane. And my 56K modem speed connection (again, common for home PCs) means lots of frame freezing.

On top, there's a problem with buffering. My modem can't download the images fast enough, so the Media Player stores up screen information as a "buffer" so that the picture is constant - except it isn't, and freezes for up to 30 seconds.

The sound depends on your computer speakers. In my case, it's tinnily proficient (headphones are better but restrictive). I guess it's one way for Sharleen Spiteri to grab the spotlight, but she wouldn't want to base her career around it.

I've now endured seven bouts of buffer-breakdown, and four times been thrown off the server, including one panicky instance at 8.55pm, when you'd reasonably expect all 17 million to be logging on and jamming the servers. After five minutes, I reconnect, and, as if there was a server god somewhere, I get uninterrupted viewing. Another hour passes; I even consider washing up. But wait. Maddy's here! And 28 minutes later, viewed through scrunched-wet-window eyes, she's gone.

"Music makes the people come together", right? Madonna's message mirrors the ethics of this webcast, and the World Wide Web at large, by trying to provide a sense of community. But this event was hardly about music.

Technology has always been Madonna's saviour, as each new medium arrives to spread her gospel, but it's let her down here. The necessary high-speed connection to make this a seductive experience just isn't widely available yet. Anyway, home comforts are no substitute for palpable buzz, as a friend, fresh home from the Academy, raved was present in spades.

Webcasts will have a role, and a future, but purely as a marketing tool. It's what lazy superstars have been waiting for.

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