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Friday May 8 1998 
News & Opinion

Daily Double Scoop Graphic
Just enough Net news. 
By John Motavalli 
Scoop One:  Is online Hollywood ready for Prime Time?
Scoop Two:  Finding Irish roots on the Web.

Is Online Hollywood Ready For Prime Time? 

When Microsoft Network first launched, you might recall, the top creative types there talked a lot about TV-like "shows," saying that the Web was going to evolve just like TV. In this space, we wrote about plans by Lorne Michaels' of Saturday Night Live fame to develop a fancy online variety show for MSN. 

Cut forward almost a year and a half, and most of that kind of talk has fizzled at MSN. But the concept of Web shows isn't dead. DoubleScoop met last week with Jaime Levy, cofounder and CEO of Electronic Hollywood, which, paradoxically, is in New York. Levy bills Electronic Hollywood as "a production studio for the Internet, producing technology driven entertainment in the form of cartoons, games, and interactive advertising," employing "cutting edge interfaces that make the user's experience more compelling and dynamic... we are trying to raise the quality of entertainment on the Web." 

Levy's investor has invested start-up capital in this company, and the two told DoubleScoop that the idea of Web-based "shows" is very much alive, kept on life support by the kind of promise of fast connections offered by WebTV and other broadband applications. 

Levy's investor thinks that MSN and other now-defunct narrative Web sites, like The Spot, were out too early, when the technology wasn't ready to handle the form. Levy factors in other ideas: "Previous attempts at online entertainment have sometimes failed because of either poor marketing or lack of compelling content. They just didn't know how to create exciting online entertainment." 

Moreover, they think that the real Hollywood has caught up to the idea now and will invest in such programming. So Levy says Electronic Hollywood will "create branded programming that's fun and has edgy humor... I am hopeful that Hollywood will look to the Internet for inspiration." She views the Internet as "an excellent distribution medium for content developed to try out new concepts for storytelling -- whether it be online games or cartoons," which major entertainment companies will invest in or license for distribution for television or film. According to Levy's investor, "the idea of creating entertainment programming online wasn't ready until the medium matured a little further." Levy's investor noted that Steve Jobs' Pixar, the animation company that produced Toy Story, is experimenting with this kind of concept. But, interestingly, Jobs himself told DoubleScoop recently that he didn't think this kind of thing was economically feasible now. 

We should see who's right soon, if Electronic Hollywood takes off. Levy, who met her investor at a computer art show in 1992, was a creative director at the now-defunct Word.com and has an interesting track record. But right now, there are a lot more misfires in this area, like AOL's Entertainment Asylum and The Hub. If you go to The Hub's site, there's a brief post which states that "The Hub is no longer available" and refers users to Entertainment Asylum. But that site also laid off a large chunk of staff recently. Karin Mihkels, PR manager for Entertainment Asylum, explains: "This was actually part of a larger AOL re-organization. We're relying more on the available infrastructure within AOL rather than duplicating staffing." 

Finding Irish Roots On the Web 

Not long ago, DoubleScoop was attending a concert by the wonderful Irish singer Susan McKeown. She remarked that she'd recently journeyed to the small town of Mullagh in County Galway where she'd been brought up. Her purpose was to trace her ancestors back a few generations. Villagers were surprised, she said, because "generally it is older Irish-Americans who are coming to seek their ancestors and not young Irish people." 

According to Sherry Irvine, the coauthor of a new book called Going to Ireland: A Genealogical Researcher's Guide, clients of genealogical services in Ireland are "predominantly American, but there are many Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, and that there is growing interest amongst the thousands of Scots and English with Irish connections." Irvine herself is "only a bit Irish in background." Excerpts from the book are available online. 

Irvine's book is regularly updated. Bruce Batchelor, publisher and CEO at Trafford Publishing, tells me about "on-demand publishing," a service for promoting and retailing books for self-publishing authors and organizations. "What makes this unique," he explains, "is the ability to offer frequent updates and revisions -- the books are actually manufactured as each order comes in. The author pays a fee which covers creation of a digital master file, some publicity work, and administrative/legal aspects. Because of the world-wide access for book buyers through the Internet and Internet search engines to locate and buy niche publications, coupled with print-on-demand technology (which allows entire books to be stored digitally and produced in a run of one) this process is now possible." 

The company also offers other niche titles, like B.C. government technical manuals and 1984: The Ultimate Van Halen Trivia Book. Batchelor claims that about 80 percent of its sales are online. "We actually developed the concept before Amazon -- but they legitimized online transactions. They paved the way. We also offer our books through them." 

Indeed, a lot of people of Irish descent from all over the world are tracing their genealogy online now, without having to make the pilgrimage to that musty town hall of fabled repute. Irvine believes that "using resources on the Net is definitely going to save you time, allowing you to better use the time when you get there." There are dozens of genealogical sites, many of which specialize in Irish family trees. For those planning a genealogical trip, you might want to know about the Irish Genealogical Congress -- one of took place last September and another, the fourth, is to take place in 2001. 

A lot of these sites, like the Irish Family History Foundation, rely on sources including "church records of baptisms, marriages, and burials (the starting dates of which vary from parish to parish), civil records of births, marriages and deaths, major sources relating to property (tithe records from circa 1830, valuation records from circa 1850) and census returns." The History Foundation page has had nearly 200,000 visitors since January 1 and is quite au courant -- recognizing that because of "the advent of computers, genealogy in Ireland has come of age" and claiming to have computerized "millions of genealogical records" at its "network of research centres in Ireland." It says that "many of the church records computerised at Irish Family History Foundation Centres are not available in public repositories or through other genealogy outlets." 

Some additional sources it has computerized include "gravestone inscriptions" and "17th-century property, pre-1600 annals, and Government records." This is a fee-for service proposition, with varying levels of service and prices. 

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