Oh no! Celebrities have discovered the Internet

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The Independent Online

Everywhere you look these days a famous person is staking their claim on the Internet and using their money, fame and contacts to get a head start. The latest one, Ready2, has just finished some promotional photos of the two founders, Susannah Constantine and Trinny Woodall, that are certain to grab everyone's attention.

Everywhere you look these days a famous person is staking their claim on the Internet and using their money, fame and contacts to get a head start. The latest one, Ready2, has just finished some promotional photos of the two founders, Susannah Constantine and Trinny Woodall, that are certain to grab everyone's attention.

The two "It" girls, who now want to be known as IT girls, are pictured naked with bits of fruit and egg covering their special areas, obviously paving the way for Ready2playboys.com. Maybe I'm missing something here, but are they just going down the blatant publicity route or is there a strong message about female exploitation in the male-dominated Internet space? Whatever the message is, it has certainly worked and generated a lot of publicity for what they are doing online.

But it's not just "It" girls who are active building online businesses. David Bowie has been a strong advocate of the Internet for years and even has his own ISP. Bob Geldoff has his own travel site, Deckchair.com, and more recently Eighties throwback Jim Kerr has put his name and money behind a student site, Student24-7.com. Not to mention Griff Rhys Jones' new Net project.

While the celebrities don't profess to know too much about the Internet, they are sharp enough to work with the right people to get the business off the ground and give interviews to the right publications in order to get the publicity wagon rolling. What next, I wonder? Noel Edmonds getting into Internet video conferencing (no, wait, he is already), Richard Whitely launching a celebrity gossip site and perhaps even Liz Taylor developing a site that handles online weddings and divorces?

Agency watch

With consolidation the current name of the game in medialand, it's always having a knock-on effect across agencyland. While agencies have always adapted to better serve the bigger clients, consolidation is forcing a significant step-change among agencies specialising in new media, particularly those owned, or part-owned, by the top global networks such as Omnicom (Razorfish, Organic, Agency.com, ThinkNewIdeas), WPP (MindShare, wpp.com), True North (Modem.Media. Poppe Tyson) and Interpublic (Zentropy).

The latter, which was formally announced last week after much speculation about what IPG should do with its diverse range of new media agencies (APL Digital, Shandwick Interactive, Thunder House), means that IPG can now put up a good fight in the global interactive arena. The figures speak for themselves; Zentropy starts with an initial base of almost 500 employees, 11 offices in five countries with combined annual revenues at around $50m (£31.2m).

Another global agency giant enters the market but are there cries of astonishment as to whether the market can sustain it? Not a word, because the market is actually crying out for agencies of this scale that can take interactive business to the next stage. Will they last? Absolutely, because they will evolve with the market and, like Zentropy, look at strong growth areas like consultancy and incubating. These are no longer the fly-by-night web designers in grotty back rooms of five years ago, but agencies that, in the not-too-distant future, will take away money and clients from traditional agencies that only offer two-dimensional solutions.

Made to measure

After years of writing about reach data, in particular the distinct lack of it in the UK compared with the US, MediaMetrix finally got its act together and brought out the first UK reach data. While cheers were heard across the industry, I for one, question the accuracy of data that covers just 2,000 home users. Sure it's good to have proper data that works on installed software metres, but MMXI really does have to scale up and boost its home-user panel as well as build a decent sized work-user panel. I'm assured that it's working on this and, with Neilsen's eRatings.com just around the corner, third party Internet measurement just got so much better.

Don't hit me, please

While on the subject of measurement, it constantly baffles me that sites are still setting out to confuse Joe Public by talking of traffic in terms of "hits". This is a real bug bear of mine, not just because it's an inaccurate gauge of user traffic but because it has become a term that enables bragging by numbers to impress people not so clued up on Internet jargon.

It's got to the stage now where hits are being confused with individual users, which was perhaps acceptable years ago when sites needed to prove traffic and 100,000 hits sounded better than 2,000 users, but not now that there are around 18 million people in the UK with access to the Internet.

Now everywhere I look - television, radio, newspapers and press releases - the term "hits" is being adopted as common currency. Isn't it time measurement in hits was reserved for webmonkeys and hosting people?

Going for broker

There's been a huge revival in Internet stocks over the past months, so much so that the online brokers are finding it difficult to meet trading demands. Traditional brokers and analysts are still casting a doom cloud over the whole market, despite recent strong performances from Freeserve, Durlacher and 365.

Sure, Internet stocks are volatile and may plateau once the current frenzy has passed, but at the moment, any company with a dot.com business is guaranteed a strong share price. The fact that brokers such as Barclays Stockbrokers has had to close its telephone share dealing service to new private investors, funnelling them online instead, is the start of a wider trend which is going fundamentally to change the way shares are traded. And, with tons of Internet companies planning stock floatations in 2000, it looks like there will finally be enough shares to go round.

amyv@app.co.uk

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