I know, I know: Celebrities have enough to worry about: the L.A. house, the Manhattan apartment, the nannies, the cars, the massage appointments, the photo shoots. The last thing they need is one more item to add to their agenda: creating a meaningful online presence.
Recently I conducted a little experiment. I simply sat at my computer and typed in the names of celebrities as URLs, "www.johndoe.com," just like that. I was curious to see how many celebrities had control of their own domain names, and how many had taken advantage of them simply to establish an online beachhead or perhaps to make a little cash off their legions of adoring fans.
What did I find? Well, in general, pop music stars have a better handle on the Web than movie stars do. That makes sense. Musicians usually have albums to promote, and if their target demographic skews young, they know that they can host a lively online community. No one does it better than Mr. Ubiquitous: Ricky Martin (www.rickymartin.com). His site is highly evolved, available in several languages, and very well-designed. He knows a thing or two about the importance of online publicity.
The same goes for music/movie star Jennifer Lopez (www.jenniferlopez.com), whose first music video even featured a fantasy trip into a Jennifer Web site. Her highly stylish site earns my admiration. Nice HTML, Jen.
Good ol' David Bowie (www.davidbowie.com) was an online pioneer, and his BowieNet is quite an experience. It's the only celeb site I found that offers credit card deals. The site is created by UltraStar, and it has always looked great. A real intersection of art and commerce.
Puff Daddy (www.puffdaddy.com), whose rapper/Godfather shtick seems to be wearing a bit thin these days, is media-savvy enough to control his own domain name, but too bad he's burdened his site with so much atmospheric animation. For a guy who moves so fast, his site moves kinda slowly. For a dose of something more sickeningly sweet, check out what teen sensation Britney Spears (www.britneyspears.com) has thrown together. Now there's a young lady who knows how to move the merchandise. Which Britney doll would you like to buy? Yuck. Her site is created by Entertainment Drive's StarClubs, which also handles Cindy Crawford, Daisy Fuentes, and, yikes!, Marilu Henner.
Ground zero for musician Web sites is Artist Direct (www.artistdirect.com), a site creator to the stars that handles everyone from the Backstreet Boys (www.backstreetboys.com) and Bjork (www.bjork.com) to the very Web-popular Tori Amos (www.toriamos.com). All the sites they create are top-notch.
As I continued with my experiment, I tried some other celebrity names. Regis Philbin? Nothing. Uma Thurman? Her URL says "not currently active." Hmmm. Dan Rather? Nothing. Alyssa Milano, the young actress who worked with her mother to fight for celebrities' rights to protect their copyrights and images online? Nothing. That was a momentary surprise until I realized I'd probably find her at www.alyssa.com (www.alyssa.com), and indeed I did. She's got a very slick official site, complete with up-to-date news briefs about her life and times, and just enough va-va-va-voom photos to keep her fans satisfied. Nothing too risque, though. After all, Alyssa is the self-proclaimed paragon of online virtue.
And Leonardo DiCaprio? (www.leonardodicaprio.com) His official site is dark and quirky and features an online art gallery of some of his favorite contemporary artists. I'm not surprised to see he controls his own domain name. After all, he made headlines in an attempt to trademark his name in all sorts of silly ways. Bottom line there: if you open a restaurant, don't even think of calling it "Leonardo's" or "DiCaprio's."
And then there's the case of Brad Pitt. Brad's online name is owned by one Khalid Alzarooni of Dubai, and Brad doesn't like it one bit. According to the New York Daily News, he's testing the new federal statute against cybersquatting by suing Alzarooni for damages in U.S. District Court in California. Word is that Alzarooni tried to sell Brad the name for $20,000. So Mr. Fight Club is ready to rumble. It will be interesting to see what happens.
At this point in my experiment, I stumbled onto a mystery. What happens when you type www.tomhanks.com? You get redirected to a site called Celebrity 1000, where you can take polls and answer survey questions about celebrities. That seemed strange. And guess what? I arrived at the same place when I typed in www.drewcarey.com and www.mariahcarey.com and www.celinedion.com. Hey! How many celebrity names has this site grabbed?
In an attempt to find out, I did a little research into domain name registrations and found out that the controlling company, General Web Groups, is a Canadian operation out of High Prairie, Alberta, a town of 2,400 souls about 450 miles north of Spokane, Washington and not too far from the shores of Lesser Slave Lake. Wow. It also has a satellite office in Las Vegas.
My calls to the company went unanswered, so I have yet to find out just how many celebrity domain names the site controls, and whether they're for sale. Does Tom Hanks know about this? Does Drew Carey? How much would he be willing to pay to get control of his URL? Will they all sue if Brad Pitt is successful? Isn't the Internet interesting? Imagine: If you get famous and don't grab your own name quickly enough, it could end up getting frozen in the Canadian tundra. Fame can be strange.