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In Disney's world on Web site, the only intruder is advertising

DISNEY'S Daily Blast, a fee-based Web site for children, may remind you of Disney World. Awash in self-promotion, this Magic Kingdom, like the original, is a hermetically sealed domain where nothing of the outside world intrudes except advertising.

Like Disney's real World, this virtual one is only partly successful at camouflaging long waits for many attractions. But even those who are unimpressed by audio-animatronic presidents will agree that the theme park's technologies are a lot more impressive than the ones on the Web site.

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Above and beyond charges for one's Internet connection, the Daily Blast costs $4.95 a month, or $39.95 if you pay for a year in advance, but members of the Microsoft Network get in free.

You can sample the site for a month at no cost without even revealing your credit card number by following a link from http: //www.disney.com. Then you must download and install about 3.5 megabytes of software plumbing and surrender 5 more megabytes of your hard disk for general housekeeping; when the program asks you to print out the instructions before proceeding, take its advice.

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Aimed at children 3 to 12 years old, Daily Blast offers a variety of activities, from shape-matching exercises for toddlers to shooting games for adolescents -- not to mention trading cards and certificates to be printed out and on-screen stories that include the child's name along with those of the characters.

The activities' primary distinctions are delays before they appear and the insistent use of Disney characters. At the moment Hercules is featured prominently, along with Baby Herc and even Goofy as Herc.

The site's editorial content utterly ignores the rest of the Web. Neither the current sports pieces nor the two skimpy daily news stories nor the child-written features on such things as the Battle of Little Big Horn contain a single link, when links are the Web's very reason for existence.

Linklessness might seem fine to parents who would prefer that their offspring remain inside the Disney walls. But the site does have external links: commercial ones that parents might not expect in a pay-to-play venue.

A child who clicks on one of the little animated commercials that flash incessantly in the lower right-hand corner of the screen will be whisked to a commercial site far from the Disney world.

Children who "Click here to get a free gift on your birthday" are led not to a page explaining how to take advantage of that offer, but to the home page of http: //www.toysrus.com, which includes no mention of that prize.

A child who eventually manages to click the "Sign-Up" icon is asked for his or her first name, e-mail address, birthday and gender, not to mention a "secret word" whose purpose is undescribed. Exactly what might be done with this information goes unexplained, but the gift turns out to be "only compatible with Windows 3.11, Windows 95 and the Power Macintosh." It appears to be an online birthday card. Gee, thanks.

Then there are what TV stations used to call "technical difficulties." Daily Blast requires a password, but stores it on your machine so that there is no obvious way to lock children or adults out. And the program sticks its bright red "D-ball" logo in the lower right corner of the Windows 95 taskbar, taking up precious space there until you restart your machine, even though it essentially does nothing.

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More disconcertingly for a site that has been in business more than three months, several games did not load properly on my machine. And one afternoon, switching from any area to another repeatedly gave the message "Microsoft Jscript runtime error 'toolbar' is not an object." At least that problem was gone the next day.

A technical support person and a corporate executive had heard of similar problems on some machines but had no solutions, though they said changes to the site are in progress.

Pub Date: 8/18/97


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