New Media

The new girls' network
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The Independent Online

OH, THE trials and tribulations of a start-up keen to raise its profile before floating. With the media interest in the Internet at an all-time high, hardly a day goes by without reports of the latest e-venture in the national press or someone from a start-up being interviewed on television. Times have certainly changed.

OH, THE trials and tribulations of a start-up keen to raise its profile before floating. With the media interest in the Internet at an all-time high, hardly a day goes by without reports of the latest e-venture in the national press or someone from a start-up being interviewed on television. Times have certainly changed.

But seeing Martha Lane-Fox on the box twice in one week finally convinced me that the Internet has become a national obsession. The cynic in me says it won't last; news editors tend to get bored with something once they've worked out what it is. The enthusiast in me says it's the best PR the Internet could have hoped for. Just over a year ago it was rare to find Internet-related articles in anything but trade magazines and, of course, these pages of The Independent.

My metaphorical hat comes off to Lane-Fox, who took on the big boys, namely Jeremy Paxman and David Dimbleby, and came out shining. But I wonder how much her appearance - she's a pretty blonde who just happened to have co-founded a hot start-up, Lastminute.com - contributed to her inclusion in those shows. Looking at the rest of the panel on Question Time - Robin Cook, Janet Street-Porter and Menzies Campbell- I couldn't help thinking that Martha was the token new media pin-up.

Forget the incessant press coverage of the so-called Internet millionaires society, who's in favour of forming a new media chicks club and laying to rest the geek image once and for all?

NetAid fails to click

While I'm on the subject of over-exposure, what a letdown NetAid turned out to be. Not only did the organisers fail sufficiently to promote it, they also failed to attract a madman to shout, "Give us yer money" every five minutes. Michael Douglas in front of a bunch of suits in Geneva, talking about "clicking on the Internet website", just didn't do it for me, and judging by the reluctance of the organisers to reveal how much (or little) they raised, despite promising to do so, it didn't cut the mustard for the rest of the global audience.

The idea was that NetAid would spread by word of mouth via the Internet, and people would find themselves visiting the site and donating tons of cash. Only it didn't quite work like that.

By stating that they were hoping for a billion hits by the end of the year (when are people going to stop talking in terms of hits?), organisers are hiding behind jargon that only a few understand. They also said that 2,385,455 "streams" of NetAid footage were broadcast, but failed to say whether this figure was based on individual IP addresses, or just a large number of hard-core users jumping in and out of the broadcast throughout the day.

While admittedly NetAid did manage to prove that the Internet is the only truly global medium, it was a little premature, given that Real Video is still crap on a dial-up modem.

More trouble at BT

The spotlight was uncomfortably back on BT last week when news of the departure of John Swingewood, director of Internet and multimedia services, leaked out. The fact that he slipped out through the back door two weeks before the leak and is "unavailable for comment", is a typical BT exercise in damage limitation. Reports suggest he was frustrated with the telco's delay in rolling out high-speed Internet access and its failure to invest aggressively in Internet technologies. Sounds familiar? Wasn't that part of the reason why Rupert Gavin, now chief executive of BBC Worldwide, left BT two years ago?

So what's going on at BT's Internet division? On the surface, things seem rosy; Swingewood has paved the way for Internet services over mobile phones and nationwide ADSL and has taken BT into free Internet access, but the calm surface hides the corporate hotch-potch of direction and strategy. My suspicions were first aroused at the Yell awards earlier this year when BT's managing director, Bill Coburn, gave an embarrassingly ill-informed speech about the wonders of the Internet and e-commerce - my dad could have done better. Perhaps Coburn was too wrapped up in enticing customers back to BT, or perhaps it demonstrated a fundamental lack of real understanding about the Internet marketplace.

Sources suggest that the red tape at BT is impossible to cut through and that the organisation is not structured in such a way to keep up with the pace of new media change. You only have to think back to how long it took BT Click (plus) to drop its 1p per minute surcharge when it was wrong-footed by Freeserve, to understand the inherent frustrations.

For Swingewood, who had become part of the furniture at BT after 27 years of service, the move to the more fast-moving BSkyB as head of new media content presents him with a refreshing change, giving him the opportunity to consider new levels of convergence. But my gaze is now well and truly fixed on BT. It will be interesting to see whether Swingewood's defection is contagious.

Getting the builders in

With the Government's keen interest in all things electronic, it has decided its gateway to No 10 needs an overhaul to bring it up to date. In what the press release claims was "one of the most prestigious and keenly fought competitive pitches of the year" (crikey!), presumably because of the opportunity to "work directly with the Prime Minister's office", the venerable Mike Crossman at Bates Interactive is faced with the unenviable task of "taking No 10's existing Web presence on to an exciting new level".

Can't wait.

amy@wagswell.co.uk

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