This year, tourist season in my London bolthole was opened by the arrival of my American auntie Gloria, who passionately follows the twists and turns of our monarchy. Normally, to provide her with a satisfactory yearly fix of royal data I've had to look for the court circular in the newspaper to find out the appointments of the Queen or Prince Charles. But this year Gloria and her friend spent many happy hours flicking through the Royal Family Internet site (http://www.royal.gov.uk). I recommend this as a cost-effective way of entertaining your American relatives - it keeps them quiet for ages, and all at the price of a local phone call.
My Auntie Gloria is particularly keen on Princess Anne, and thanks to the Internet site was able to discover that today she is visiting a college in Oxford, so both of my American visitors will be there, with their digital cameras ready.
Talking of which, I have met Prince Andrew on a few occasions recently and twice we ended up chatting about digital photography, which he is quite keen on. I even took some pictures of him with a digital camera (www.cyberiacafe.net/ princeandrew.html).
Although the Prince's official home page does not mention technology as an interest, he is au fait with the latest in online equipment, and the official Royal Family site is constructed in a modern and quietly efficient manner that obviously comes from having experience with the medium. It not only covers appointments and basic details, but has also recently been expanded by 85 pages to cover items from the Queen's private art collection, many of which were previously unseen.
The site points out that members of the Royal Family consider themselves to be part of the tourist service industry and use the Internet to support tourists in their spot-a-royal chase. By providing up-to-date information, the royals can also strike back at the tabloid press and take control of the communication process, using the online medium to present themselves in a businesslike manner and thus cutting out the media middlemen.
In the future, this could grow into a more interactive dialogue - imagine online chats with the Queen and e-mail contacts for all members of the Royal Family. Prince Andrew already has an e-mail address with Easynet, set up for a conference in California which he attended on behalf of the UK's hi-tech industry. The rest of the royals will probably make that move at some point in the near future.
This direct contact and the control over the highly popular Royal Family Web site could provide the Queen with a new way to bring the monarchy closer to the public by using modern technology in the battle against the tabloid press. You can easily imagine the future royal announcements to be accompanied by online Q&A sessions with Prince Charles or even Camilla (although she is not on the official home page yet, and I couldn't find one for her on the Net). It would stop the tabloids selling so many copies, and increase interest in the Internet as a medium; both would be positive developments.
However, the official Royal Family site could also become a great money- spinner by expanding into online sales of souvenirs. It would be quite easy to provide a secure electronic commerce server to carry Buckingham Palace merchandise in an entertaining and reliable manner. Considering that the Queen is a unique, well-known brand, global demand for signed books, photographs and souvenirs must be substantial.
One Web site from which the royals could learn is Geraldine's (http://www.etoile.demon.co.uk), which provides a trading zone where Royal Family fanatics can buy/sell/swap royal information and products. When I looked in last week, it was very busy - somebody was selling an official programme from Charles and Di's wedding; other offers ranged from signed photos to books on specific dark and murky areas of royal history. This unofficial site also provides a comprehensive guide to books on the royals, and a set of links to chat rooms, mailing lists and other related interest areas.
It shows that, as with everything else on the Internet, an experienced librarian can do wonders to organise an existing set of information sources into a clear and easily accessible knowledge environment for the topic of interest. Librarians come back, all is forgiven.
More on that topic in two weeks' time; meanwhile, happy royal-hunting, and remember to send me any good celebrity sites that you come acrossn