Everybody's best friend.com
Vivian Livingston, one of the most popular women on the Internet today, is giving away all her secrets.
For example, the 25-year-old Manhattan publicist is dating a sculptor/fireman and wears size 10 pants. She shares her studio apartment with a white German shepherd named Omelet and bites her nails vigorously when she's nervous. And her favorite TV show is "The Sopranos."
So what is it, exactly, that sets Vivian apart from everyone else?
For starters, she isn't real.
The virtual hipster's home is actually at www.Vivianlives.com, and her secrets are the fictitious offspring of Sherrie Krantz, creator of the website and CEO of its parent company, Forever [After], Inc. Vivian, not to mention her apartment and everything in it, is animation at its most hip.
"I wanted to create the consummate girlfriend who, no matter where you lived or what was going on in your life, you could always rely on," says Krantz, who left her job as a DKNY public-relations executive in 1998 to jumpstart the website.
"It's for those moments when you feel like you're completely lost, and you want someone who's going to get you all the time - whether that means to entertain you, service you with information on trends, or just always be there," Krantz says.
Krantz just returned from a grueling two months on the road with her own German shepherd, Nikki, to discuss "The Autobiography of Vivian" - the first in a trilogy "as told to" Krantz. She is already halfway through writing the second book, "Vivian Lives," due out in July.
But how does an average character like Vivian draw 8 million visitors - mostly girls and women between the ages of 14 and 36 - into her virtual home and entice them to keep visiting month after month?
Visitors say they are comforted by the normalcy of Vivian's fictitious life and encouraged by her confidence, heartfelt musings, and acute sense of style.
"Vivianlives is so popular because it is created to feel comfortable," says 20-something Angie Edington, a marketing administrator in Seattle who visits the site two to three times a day. She says the chat rooms and daily updates make it a virtual around-the-clock companion. "When I log on and talk with other posters I feel I'm talking with good friends. It's like having a girls night out where you can be at ease and be yourself."
Girls aren't the only visitors. Rick Tsang, 21-year-old founder of www.ricksta.net who lives in Ajax, Ontario, visits the chat rooms in Krantz's website almost every day.
"The reason why this website is so popular is its frequently updated content," Mr. Tsang says. "It works well because a lot of women are just interested in this cartoon character that somewhat portrays the daily lives of other women."
The website, for example, enables visitors to read Vivian's journal, explore her apartment, flip through photo albums, and rummage through keepsakes. Some days, Vivian's room is a mess. At other times, the only way she can get through the day is by devouring the requisite salami sandwich and chocolate milkshake.
Mr. Tsang, who frequently uses the chat room as a means to offer a male perspective on various issues affecting women, says the site can at times be rather tedious.
"The only issue I disagree with in what she promotes is the superficiality involved, but since I had never intended to use all of the provided features, it is all right with me," he says.
But it isn't all fluff. While Vivian has plenty to say about how to dress for various personalities - Little Miss Tomboy, Girly Girl, or Urban Diva, among others - she also offers advice on everything from her favorite books and music to careers, self-esteem, and budgeting. On the "Career" page, visitors who are successful in their own field tell their stories, and the "Wellness" page is divided into categories about physical and emotional health. Here, Krantz didn't miss a beat: Subtle product placements are sprinkled throughout the site. (For example, trainer David Kirsch's most recent book accompanies his photo in the "training" section).
While the popularity of Vivianlives.com may speak to the state of personal relationships in a world of hectic schedules and lessening human contact, Krantz says it inspires her to wave her wand of influence in a positive way.
Recently, Krantz faced a serious dilemma: How much attention should she give to the events of Sept. 11 on the website?
While Vivian's boyfriend was a firefighter prior to the terrorist attacks, Krantz did not want to belittle the tragedy by inventing the responses of a fictitious character. On Sept. 11, Krantz decided to let Vivian discuss the grief she felt in her online journal. But Krantz decided a brief mention of how Vivian spent her day - an impromptu road trip outside the city - would suffice; she did not want to trample on the sorrow of so many whose lives in New York are far more than cyber.
Vivian's popularity suggests that her followers, amid the attention they devote daily to work, family, and friends, may indeed find comfort in understanding trials and successes of another ordinary woman.