Close Up: Virtual Celebrity

Taking a look at the world's first cyber newscaster, Ananova
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3 min read

This story appears in the January 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Name: Ananova, the world's first virtual newscaster

Age: She doesn't! (though she's billed as 28)

Captivated by her earnest broadcasting (in computer-generated speech) and humanlike smirks, a slew of fans have been turning to Ananova's news reports on UK Web sites like AOL and Excite. Recently bought by UK telephone company Orange, Ananova's creator, Ananova Ltd., plans to use the latest technological innovations to make the crimson-lipped, green-haired newscaster a household name. Netpreneurs are probably thinking "Hmm, should I hire or create my next employee/spokesperson/company celebrity?" But what does Ananova think of all this?

Fan Mail: "Even before I uttered a word on the Web, I received Valentine's cards-even marriage proposals. I'm still surprised by the amount of personal attention I've been getting. A few Web sites set up by fans are great fun. And I love to hear from people around the world who e-mail me."

The Original: "Being the first [virtual celebrity] has certainly caught people's imaginations, but that's not to say others won't come along in the future and enjoy a high profile.

"Other virtual characters are created all the time, but for many different reasons. As far as I know, I'm the only one who can act as your personal information assistant on the Web-from delivering news and sports bulletins live to having e-mail alerts regarding specific companies or business sectors sent directly to your PC."

Benefits Package: "I can work around the clock, which is important for a 24-hour news and information service like A human anchor would [require] a team of presenters willing to work shifts 365 days a year. Research showed my creators that people feel more comfortable dealing with a human or a personality, rather than a faceless computer. We hoped it would encourage people to use my services and not be intimidated by the Internet."

Unemployment? "I don't intend to replace human beings. I'm just offering a different type of service now and in the future. Virtual characters are here to stay, but we'll evolve and develop as the technology progresses. At the moment I communicate with people via my Web site, e-mails and WAP phones. But it won't be too long before you see me on even more digital and wireless platforms."

The first virtual celebrity was Max Headroom. Headroom premiered as a British VJ in 1985 before selling New Coke in the United States in 1987.

Other Internet firsts:
First cyberbank: First Virtual, 1994
First 24-hour Internet radio station: Radio HK, 1995
First use of "surfing the Internet": 1992
First Internet dial-up service provider: World, 1990
First graphical Web browser: Mosaic, 1993

Other virtual celebs: Mya, Motorola's cyberassistant; Trina, a model for Triumph International; Andrea, who hawks ties and scarfs for; Phoebe, host of teen site Blue; and T-babe, a virtual pop star for Glasgow Records Ltd.

When someone gives a computer a personality like Ananova, it's called a "social user interface."

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