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Hype a double-edged sword

Hot on the Web

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on October 20, 2000
(Issue 1842, Computer Nightmares)

Attention is a lot like electricity – in and of itself, it's neither good nor bad; it simply is. Harness it correctly, and you get all kinds of good things. Get careless, you get burned. 'Tis a lesson too many keep learning the hard way.

The NBC network was hyping their new portal site all over the Olympic coverage. And having a slinky supermodel breathlessly ask if you're not wanting something "other than AOL or Yahoo" (are those really our only choices?) has to be good for generating new first-time visitors, anyway.

But based on the thin content, the reality is that – for now – the ads were more interesting than the site. Folks may visit hoping for another glimpse of the girl in the hot gold dress, but there's nothing anywhere near that likely to hold your attention at (And what the heck does the lower-case "i" indicate anyway? Interactive? Why not just say so and be done with it? What trendy little committee of yuppies come up with that one? Cut off their supply of lattes before they have another brainstorm ...)

For starters, there is no thematic organization to the site. Visually, the home page is broken up into a series of alternating gray and white columns with a thick horizontal line further dividing it into eight squares. But despite labels like "Shopping" and "Entertainment," the squares aren't really given any order.

On the day I visited (right after the closing ceremonies of the Olympics ... their ad really did work ...), in the top-left and unlabeled square, traditionally where newspapers and magazine put their most important item, there was the sad headlnie "The Grieving Begins: Friends pick up the pieces after VA shooting." Not cheerful, but a necessary part of running a news site. But right below that little news tease, in the very same box, where one might expect other equally serious news, was a link titled "Frugal Favorites" about cheap ways to travel around Europe. Below that was a tease for "Clubs, pubs and grub." To the immediate right of the somber news headline was a link where you could buy an Apple G4 Cube (nice computer, but a bit tacky in that placement).

The whole page had the chaotic appearance of having been randomly assembled.

The inside sections aren't much better. The news section is awfully thin for a national network. What news coverage they did have was diluted by its TV-influenced breathless tone of "gee whiz" attached to every story. Further, the news coverage was drawn from MSNBC and contained no video footage that I saw. Look, I'm not here to knock writers (obviously), but if you're a television network, might you not want to jazz up your news coverage with a few video clips on your Web site? Show that you understand the new media and want to take advantage of it?

While there are no community sections such as offered on AOL and Yahoo, the home page does offer a link to "NBCi Promotions." Really. Hot, new romantic getaways for starters.

NBCi is a sad, shabby little site that's nowhere near as useful, interesting or fun as Yahoo or even the plain vanilla AOL. From all appearances, NBC spent more money on developing and airing its NBCi commercials than it did in building the Web site itself.

Breath Savers Cool Blasts Music Trivia

On the other hand, this is an example of a mellow, kind of laid-back marketing campaign that allows the visitor to be impressed by the content itself.

And this online interactive contest is very hip, very fun and very stylish.

A promotion for Breath Savers' new Cool Blasts mints, the Cool Blasts Music Trivia contest uses the Shockwave browser plugin to create a seamless interactive animated interface that is as easy to use as it is long to download. (On a 56k dial-up acount, you may get tired of waiting; have DSL or cable, then it's definitely worth a try.)

Co-sponsored by Rhino and Warner Bros. Records, the contest features four rounds: multiple choice music questions, a timed round in which you try to answer as many as you can, a game of matching an album cover to the hit songs it contained, and a name-that-tune round.

There are plenty of musical styles represented, from jazz to country, heavy metal to rap. Theq uestions are tough, too. (Okay, I didn't make the winners' list, but I did score 7270 – let's see you beat that!)

But it's a fun little contest with great graphics and interactivity – even if it will never have the advertising budget of