Innovation is the sincerest form of flattery

New Media
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The Independent Online

"Geez, you guys throw a better party than we do over in the States," was how John Battell, CEO and President of US weekly internet business magazine The Industry Standard, opened his presentation last week as he launched the European version. Oh good, well at least there's something we're better at, sneered my cynical neighbour, while sipping champagne out on the rain-soaked balcony at Le Coq D'Argent, the venue for the launch party on Wednesday night.

"Geez, you guys throw a better party than we do over in the States," was how John Battell, CEO and President of US weekly internet business magazine The Industry Standard, opened his presentation last week as he launched the European version. Oh good, well at least there's something we're better at, sneered my cynical neighbour, while sipping champagne out on the rain-soaked balcony at Le Coq D'Argent, the venue for the launch party on Wednesday night.

Choking alongside us on pickled-cabbage-wrapped smoked-duck canapés was Stelios Haji-Ioannou, what appeared to be a pack of Venture Capitalists (who formerly used to travel in what was known as "wads"), and a higher than average number of big hair-dos than is normally found at floppy- haired new media parties.

There was also a smattering of familiar journalists, as the Industry Standard Europe has cast its recruitment net wide, taking with it Mike Butcher, former editor of New Media Age, and Victor Smart, former editor of Management Today. Our view of the laser show which followed Battell's speech was somewhat obscured by the parasols lining the balcony, and my cynical friend got very excited when he mistook the word "Business" for "Guinness" on the laser projection of the magazine's mission statement.

As the first issue was handed out, my eyes were drawn to the letters page and the headline, "Shut Up America," flagging a letter criticising The Industry Standard's web site for snobbery about the European market, and its race to "catch up" with the US.

As the writer points out, in Europe, and especially the UK, we are not imitators, but innovators and the internet here is just one marketing medium along with TV and mobile commerce - which is where we lead the race. As the laser show came to a musically-choreographed close, my cynical friend leant over and said, "Very 1989".

Noel's Mouse Party

This was the week in which Noel Edmonds confirmed my thoughts that digital TV might be the way forward, rather than PC-based internet access, by proclaiming the notion that everyone will be accessing the internet via PCs in the near future to be, and I quote, "bollocks."

Now that he's dispensed with the gigantic spotty pink lilo with a face, he's putting all his energy into broadband video-conferencing and good luck to him. But if there is a backlash against the idea that we're all missing out on something if we're not online, Beenz, the international web-based currency, is unabated. Its taking its offline incentives to the high street, offering consumers the chance to earn beenz by buying products from affiliated manufacturers who put the offer on the side of theircans or boxes or whatever. The idea being that manufacturers who have until now been separated from the consumer's habits by the supermarkets, can at last get people registering on their sites to get the beenz, "thus attracting users who would in normal circumstances not go near a web site about deodorant," said Dale Clements, head of marketing for beenz Europe. Like Tony Blair, for instance.

Fetching business

I must confess that I feel like a kid caught with her hand in the sweet jar. I have a part to play, however small, in the demise of Urbanfetch, the free one hour London delivery service that came to the UK from New York in June. Unable to sustain small value orders, including CDs, books and food, with no delivery charge, it has now shut down its entire b2c operation on both sides of the Atlantic in order to focus on its US-based b2b operation, Urbanfetch Express - blaming lack of funding.

Hours later, same day delivery service Bags of Time shut up shop because it hadn't secured the necessary £3m funding. Meanwhile, one hour delivery service KooBuyCity is in denial that bad things happen in threes, despite the fact that it has recently been in discussions with both Urbanfetch and Bags of Time about potential mergers, and the fact that its website is crook and will be out of action for three weeks due to "technical reasons", costing the French-backed company more than £40,000 in lost orders just a few months after the service was launched. Instant gratification - something gorgeous, shiny or edible in our hands - is what human nature requires of shopping, and if this can bedone at a press of a button, even better.

Urbanfetch has said it would consider re-entering the b2c market later on, but by then, the likes of Amazon and BOL might have taken a slice of the "I want it now" action. Talking of which, that packet of £1.65 Minstrels I ordered from Urbanfetch just a week before it shut up shop were delicious.

Dot.con debate

Eyebrows and blood pressures are being raised over ABTA's (Association of British Travel Agents) latest £250,000 ad campaign on the London Underground, poster sites and travel sections of national weekend newspapers this month.

Non ABTA members, many of who attended ABTA's first e-travel forum meeting last month, feel that the ads, which feature the headline "Don't Be Dot.Conned are raising aserious issue - that of rip-off travel companies - by scape-goating online travel agents. The fact that there are decent online traders out there is in such small print, they say, that according to advertising statistics, eight out of 10 people will never get that far. "We'd have preferred it if ABTA had used a more positive way of introducing the initiative rather than scaring the public with the notion of being dot.conned," said Expedia.co.uk, which although not an ABTA member is a co-bonded site through the fact that it deals only with travel agents which are ABTA accredited.

Unmissable.com, a site offering unusual and high-end travel, points out that many non-ABTA members are covered by their own insurance provisions and also, many travel options are outside of ABTA's recommendations. ABTA claims that's rubbish and people will not just see the word dot.conned and read no further. Not if you believe a recent Virgin billboard headline that claimed that eight out of 10 people will read no further. I forget what it was for.

Lisa.Simmons@haynet.com

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