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The West Side of the Kingdom
Page 1 of 2

by Rick West (archives)
March 15, 2000
This month Rick speaks on Disney, their fans and the Internet and discusses upcoming animated features from Disney and their competitors.

The Internet’s New Groove

Good March to everyone - I hope the sun’s been shining on you wherever you are, although up here in the San Francisco area, it’s been pretty much soggy and dark all month so far! Lots to discuss, so let’s hop right in feet-first!

The Internet is one of my favorite things in the world. It’s such a part of my daily living that I cannot imagine back 15 years ago when I had never heard of a URL or even dreamed of having my own Web site. It’s amazing how much technology has changed to meet the needs of the masses. The Web is no longer a choice - it’s a must if you wish to stay on the same page with the rest of the world. Children have their own computers in the classroom (many with high-speed connections), most families have them in their homes and every successful business in the modern world has a computer of some sort in their office. Here in Silicon Valley, it’s more important to have a computer than a car - I am not exaggerating. It’s the computer and digital age, my friends. I often tell my little sisters-in-law that they are going to inherit the great benefits and advances that my generation has set the groundwork for. I think of all the amazing break-through technology that will come in this new millennium, and it bums me out totally to know that I will only catch a glimpse of a fraction of the things to come long after I am gone and my little sisters live to be little old ladies. Oh well; such is life, I suppose.

So where am I going with this babble? I assure you - I am getting there, in a round and about way. Now that we’ve established that the Internet is now the norm for everyone, it’s easy to see why there are gazillions of sites around the world that people have erected as virtual shrines to their favorite music groups, movies, movie stars, food and even their pets. Natural evolution of the Web has caused a fan page boom in the past several years. That’s why LaughingPlace.com even exists.

So how do large companies with trademarks, products and brand images to protect police the Internet, making sure that their assets are not being abused or capitalized on by some kid in his bedroom 3,000 miles away? The answer is that they don’t bother, usually - there are now too many sites and too many pages to effectively monitor. So, companies turn toward the very high-profile sites such as the one you’re on right now. They either learn to live with them, or they attempt to shut them down, which usually causes major negative publicity for the company in question - especially if the targeted fan site is good or in most cases, better than the “Official” site offered by the organizations being worshipped!

This is why the latest online newsletter from StarWars.com caught my eye. It’s announcing that George Lucas and his staff have invited all Star Wars fans to unite under one virtual roof - the official Star Wars site - and create their fan sites for everyone to enjoy in one place… for free. Not a bad plan and not at all a bad offer. I am sure it will be wildly successful, considering how many bajillions of Star Wars fans are surfing the Net as you read this, looking for their next bit of Jedi lore and that ever-burning Lucas fix!

It got me to thinking that perhaps The Walt Disney Company should take note and follow the leader in this case. There are tons of Disney-related fan sites out there that would benefit greatly from this type of arrangement. We’ve all heard horror stories about Disney fan Webmasters being contacted by Disney Legal regarding their sites, instructing them to take the content down or else. Imagine if Disney announced that it was offering free site space for any and all fans to create their own page within Disney.com . It would be an overnight success and fans would feel truly appreciated by the Company rather than hunted and fearful! Naturally, sites like LaughingPlace.com would most likely remain individual entities, but what about the ton of small one-page tributes out there to various Disney characters or attractions? It would be a wonderful idea that would signify that the Mouse has finally embraced its online fans and has gone the extra distance just like StarWars.com to give them a forum to display their affection for the Company. Heck, Lucas has even supplied tools to assist fans setting up their pages on StarWars.com! Color me jaded, but I cannot readily imagine Disney being so open-minded and enthusiastic in a similar situation. So this is my challenge to those at Disney calling the shots - match and better Lucas, by offering free Web space to people wanting to share their pages with fellow fans, give them the tools and clip art to do it and be genuinely supportive of this. I double-dog dare you.

As far as I’m concerned, Lucas has set a new Internet community standard with this announcement and new service. Other industry leaders need to follow suit or be left in the virtual dust. Disney fan pages will continue to grow and thrive online no matter what - the question is, will it be with or without the Disney Company’s support and assistance. Once can’t help but think that Walt not only would have loved this idea - he would have pioneered the effort from the very beginning. I mean, think about it for a moment. As long as fans aren’t posting images of accidents or bare body parts showcasing Disney tattoos in the most unlikely spots, what does Disney have to lose except a little hard drive space? It’s free advertising, free public relations and creates a true sense of community between the Company and its fans. We’re watching and waiting, Michael…

In the spirit of discussing online advancements, I just thought I would throw in a shameless plug for the brand new Theme Park Adventure Magazine web site. We’re at the same URL; the look is completely different, though. Stop by and take a look. We’re sure you’ll enjoy the new format and all of the cool new online offerings!

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