Barbara Walters meets Posh Spice online

This virtual anchor's emotions are tailor-made for each story (and she can't bug the boss for a raise!)

Her green hair is cut with a hip sweep of sleek bangs. And no matter how many headlines she delivers, she will never ask her boss for a raise.

Ananova is "the world's first virtual newscaster." Last week she began broadcasting in cyberspace with the opening, computer-generated words: "Hello world. Here is the news - and this time it's personal."

She then launched into a round-the-clock stream of headlines, ranging from news of a plane crash in the Philippines to the latest from Wall Street.

Will Ananova turn out to be the ultimate cyberbabe, the voice and face the world turns to when it wants to know what's going on around the globe?

Well, not quite - or at least not yet.

But Mark Hird, publishing director of Ananova Ltd., a division of the British Press Association, predicts that Ananova will rapidly become "an artificial personal assistant for hundreds of thousands of Web surfers."

In addition to viewing Ananova's virtual newscasts, surfers can ask her to produce tailored e-mail news bulletins on subjects of special interest, browse entertainment listings, and buy tickets. And they can use her as a dedicated search engine.

"She doesn't exhibit any of the less desirable adult personality traits like arrogance, cynicism, and deceit," says Mr. Hird.

"Visitors to the Web site (www.ananova.com) will see the slightly twitchy face of a wide-eyed newscaster with a more than passing resemblance to Posh Spice.

To make sure she doesn't giggle while giving the details of a plane crash, says Robert Simpson, Ananova Ltd.'s CEO, producers press buttons to make her expression match the tone of what she is reading.

Mr. Simpson claims Ananova is destined to be "a phenomenal information resource." But professionals who have watched her "perform" have given mixed reactions.

Rebecca Ulph, a London-based Internet analyst, thinks "it will appeal to the younger end of the market," she says, "and to people who are new to the Internet - people who want a filtering mechanism through all the news that's out there. But if I wanted a newscaster, I'd turn on the TV."

The Ananova Web site has already received hundreds of messages from surfers -some favorable, others not.

Eric Dufort of Quebec, Canada, said the day he saw his first virtual news broadcaster would be as memorable as "man's first step on the moon."

M.K. Kelley reacted with: "Yikes! I barely have time to read the news tickers on my browser, much less listen to some jerky glorified holographic image stumble through the newscasts!"

But, commercial director Vivienne Adshead says the company spent a lot of energy honing Ananova's image. Part of that was finding that "people said they preferred to get their information from a woman."

The company claims that there were "tens of thousands of hits" in Ananova's first hour on stream. One of the most popular questions: "What's up with the name?"

One reader's suggestion: Ananova means "new woman" in old Turkish.

Does Ananova have an opinion of her own? One thing: "My name is never shortened. It really irritates me when people call me Ana, Anna, or Nova.

"Keep it Ananova. Otherwise I start blowing a few circuits."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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