- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2000

Silver Spring-based StarStock.com (www.starstock.com) has created a free, fantasy on-line game that reacts like the stock market, only instead of buying shares of corporations, players purchase stock in musicians, stars of television and movies and politicians.
The value of a celebrity or politician waxes or wanes depending upon such factors as new projects, scandals or the endorsement of a major backer.
"It began at a black tie party held during the Academy Awards," said Paresh Shah, chief executive officer of StarStock.com. "I found that conversation would flow between stocks and award winners. We would follow the awards, make predictions and then talk about stocks, making predictions.
This Internet start-up company went from concept to reality in under six months with the help of the Alexandria-based web development firm, Xpedior (www.xpedior.com). Programming began last April with a version ready for focus groups in August of 1999 and going live in October.
The goal was to create an environment that would not only encourage visitors to return, but also allow StarStock.com to acquire demographic, product and entertainment data provided by players through on-line questionnaires.
"For a Web site to be successful it has to be rich in content and be a place where users are going to come back willingly and frequently," said Susan Hayes, senior vice president, marketing and business development of StarStock.com.
"We are finding that players do return, often frequently during the day. In addition, based on initial response, we anticipate we will hit our target of hundreds of thousands of users within the first year."
For each registration filled out by the player, he collects portfolio dollars with which to buy fantasy stock. Additional portfolio dollars can be earned by participating in surveys and promotions.
In the age of the Internet, data carries a very strong value in the face of changing advertising and marketing rules.
"Success on-line is not always measured by what your are selling, but by what you are learning," Mr. Shah said.
Those changes come in numerous ways. Foremost is that today's World Wide Web advertiser expects to purchase ad space targeted to a specific user and resulting in a marketing impression viewed by a much more qualified prospect.
For example, an ad for Garth Brooks placed in a music magazine is going to be seen by every subscriber, even though only a percentage of those readers are country and western or Garth Brooks fans.
When sites collect visitor statistics, such as that done by StarStock.com, they can also target the advertising. If upon registering with StarStock.com I indicate my gender, age, income bracket, marital status, and then purchase Dixie Chicks stock or a Shania Twain CD through the sites retail marketplace, I would probably be a good user to receive a banner advertisement message regarding the release of the next Garth Brooks album.
The StarStock.com server automatically recognize when a player returns to the site, matching it to the information collected during the registration process or when users respond to a survey or promotion. This user recognition allows the site to sell extremely focused advertising.
It also provides the company with valuable marketing data that can be sold to advertisers, though according to Mr. Shah and the sites terms and conditions of use and privacy statement, no information identifiable as belonging to a specific person is released to any third party.
"This is not an instance of big brother watching," Ms. Hayes said. "Our research shows that users prefer to view advertising that is targeted to their individual likes and dislikes, so the end result is a win-win situation for both the advertiser and the user."
Have an interesting site? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Business Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail to joseph@twtmail.com.

Site of the Week

Site address: www.starstock.com
Recommended user group: Anyone who enjoys reading the National Enquirer while trading stocks on line.
What's to like: Anyone who plays the stock simulation will have a fun, interactive experience finding out which stars are hot through a discussion forum, joining a team and watching their personal portfolio rise and fall with immediate updates.
However, the best part of StartStock.com is visitors do not have to play its game to click around. A massive amount of information can be found on anyone in the public eye thanks to the nicely developed pages of exhaustive resource material.
For example, I am a big Clint Eastwood fan and on his StarStock.com page I found a short biography and numerous links to areas such as fan sites, a place to buy Clint Eastwood movie posters, Mr. Eastwood's filmography and the official "Absolute Power" Web site.
What's not to like: If I am going to waste this much time researching Drew Carey just to win a Discman I might as well expend this energy learning how to play the real stock market and potentially reap some bigger rewards.
Plenty of links to go around: A one-stop reference stop for those famous and infamous can be found throughout the StarStock.com site including these fantastic access points.
Find a photo gallery of a wide range of celebrities at PicturesNOW! (www.picturesnow.com). In addition to a full array of images and videos ranging from the shocking Marilyn Manson to the insipid Kathie Lee Gifford, visitors can sign up for free space to store, index, manipulate and share personal photos.
Take the World's Smallest Political quiz through the Advocates for Self Government Web site (www.self-gov.org/ quiz.html). Visitors answer 5 questions on personal issues, 5 questions on economic issues, pick a candidate for the 2000 presidential election and learn their political identity.

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