WEB SITE FROLICS : BACK BITES

Or, how bored students use the university library. George Barber reports
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The Independent Culture
In understanding Britain's first ``magazine'' on the Internet, you have first to understand that it is not a magazine as such; more like a television channel, really. Then again, to use the precise jargon, it's a World Wide Web Site...

"Look, just call us something on the Net, then..." Paul Sanders, the co-founder of state51, puffs, getting a bit ratty in the way that pioneers do. "Just think of what we are as a TV station. Now you wouldn't expect every programme every night to be on the same subject, would you? Well, state51 puts out a whole range of unrelated items, as long as they're good. However, it is more complicated than that because some of the things we offer exist both on paper and on state51. So we are a magazine in some ways, but chiefly we're a channel..."

Just when you think you've got the idea, another novelty arises. Pieces "published" by state51 (the title is an ironic reference to Britain's status vis--vis the United States) can be of any length. This means that if someone wants to write 300 pages on Norman Wisdom's collection of model railways shunters - sorry, but it does tend to be like that - they can unburden their souls exponentially, and even include pictures and audio clips. Since launching - sorry, going on line - in September, state51 has also built up a virtual alternative guide to Britain, with 450 entries on pubs, clubs, and even skateboarding venues contributed by readers.

So what happens when you tap into state51? First, you are presented with four headlines. These are regularly changed (although material has an indefinite life-span - ``like rolling news,'' says Tim). Today, for instance, a new band called Senser invite entries for a CD competition; Massive Attack offer various mixes of their new hit; an article boasts conspiracy theories that even conspiracy theorists won't tell you; and there's a discussion of space-age bachelor- pad music. You simply click on the route you wish to follow. I happen upon a message to Maradona, penned by a certain Colin. So, why is there so much cranky stuff in state51? Tim Leighton-Boyce, the youth expert of the three founders explains: "The vast majority of Internet users are students with free access - people sitting bored in university libraries - and they are our target audience. And of course, being students, they tend to like wacky stuff. And we have followers in the US, because English humour is hip."

Paul is agitated again. "You shouldn't be thinking we're idealists. We're hoping, like any other youth magazine, say i-D, to get advertising to support our activities - but again it's not simple to advertise with us, like charging by the page. In a sense, you have to become a sponsor."

I attempt to elicit some idea of the advertising rates, but we seamlessly re-enter techno-voodoo land. Hands gesticulate; the right terminology is not yet available; everything is so fluid, so new, that precise figures are unavailable. Briefly, Britain's first Internet magazine is a commercial proposition, and if your business is youth-orientated, it could be for you.

"Lots of people are getting worried about what we're doing. We're the first, so who knows what kind of readership we can command? We're thinking of 25,000 a month by next year. Modest, but the music industry is the obvious area who will be looking at us. Virgin already are."

Tim closes with an unintentional body blow: "Traditional paper magazines have the most to worry about from us - indeed, computer magazines already are. Take any typical magazine, and everything in it is two to three months old. That's how they work. Take any computer section in a daily paper, and there's nothing we haven't read about two or three weeks ago.

``We're able to `go to press' at the rate it takes us to type something. Time is everything, and nobody wants to wait today. If you have some news, people can be reading it in San Francisco, Japan, Australia in five minutes. How does a traditional magazine or newspaper compete with that?"

state51 can be called up on http://www.state51.co.ok/state51/

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