Digits: Gambits & Gadgets. In the World of Technology What’s in a Brand?
Not THAT Elian
Sean Williams and his wife, Elissa, who run a Web-design business in Santa Barbara, Calif., have endured a hectic few weeks. It is all because of the unique name they coined when they started their home-based company in 1997: Elian Web Services.
Traffic at www.elian.com (www.elian.com) has soared since six-year-old Cuban castaway Elian Gonzalez became the center of an international custody dispute, and especially since federal agents raided the home of his relatives in Miami to claim the boy. Mr. Williams estimates the site is getting about 5,000 hits a day, “which is pretty good considering I do no advertising at all.” Before March, he says, “We were getting maybe 100 hits a day. Most of the hits would be mine, checking my e-mail.”
Mr. Williams also has been barraged with hundreds of e-mails from people with strong feelings about the custody case. Though his site is business-oriented, including client names and information about the small firm, many visitors don’t realize it is unaffiliated with Elian Gonzalez. “Some people think somehow we’re responsible for taking him from his house and they’re angry … Some people think it’s his Web site, and say simple things like, ‘Elian, I’m sorry, I know how sad you are,’ ” he says. Many are in Spanish, and a few accuse the company of capitalizing on the boy’s name. On the contrary, Mr. Williams explains: He and his wife concocted the moniker by putting their own names together.
It’s in the Numbers
Co. can be sure of holding on to one of its most important business relationships for at least three more months — thanks to a flub by rival About.com Inc.
The popular search engine gets a portion of its visits from users of Compaq Presario computers who are directed to AltaVista when they hit the “search” button on the keyboard. Compaq Computer Corp. can terminate the contract any time AltaVista fails to be among the top 12 Web sites for four consecutive months, as measured by Media Metrix.
In February, AltaVista slipped to No. 13. In March it rose to No. 12. But in a footnote, Media Metrix says that the March rankings are in error, because No. 13, About.com, inadvertently failed to tell Media Metrix to include several small Web sites it owns.
If the sites had been included, About.com would have ranked ninth — and AltaVista would have been 13th. “Chalk it up to miscommunication,” says Todd Sloan, About.com’s chief financial officer. An AltaVista spokesman says that other services rate it higher and notes that Compaq holds a 17% stake in the site. “We have a very solid relationship with Compaq,” he says.
Bill vs. Larry
Think of it as the Battle of the Nasdaq Stars. Who has the richest hoard of corporate stock, Bill Gates of Microsoft Corp. MSFT +0.65% or Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp. ORCL +0.02%? It has been a seesaw since last week, when Mr. Gates slipped to the No. 2 spot behind his longtime rival.
Microsoft’s shares have fallen because of the Justice Department investigation, while Oracle’s have soared because of its Internet-related advances. For a while yesterday, Mr. Gates had pulled ahead, but he ended the day in second place again — barely — with his 15% share in Microsoft valued at $52 billion, compared with the $52.3 billion value of Mr. Ellison’s 25% stake in Oracle. Mr. Gates is still the richer of the two, though; thanks to his estimated $10 billion in non-Microsoft assets.
Last year, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. AMD +3.74% gave the world the Athlon, a powerful microprocessor that just happens to share its name with a trademark used by a maker of office and toilet partitions.
Now the chip maker is planning to unveil a new low-end microprocessor called Duron — which just happens to share its name with Duron Inc. (www.duron.com), a Maryland-based paint and wallpaper company, and Duron Ontario Ltd., a maker of floor finishes.
At least one of the other Durons doesn’t seem to mind. “Obviously, our promotional dollars in terms of advertising our company will go further,” jokes Geoff Kinney, vice president of Duron Ontario. But Gary Saiter, director of marketing for Duron Inc., says the company is “concerned” that the AMD brand might confuse consumers, and that Duron is looking at its legal options. An AMD spokesman declines to say why the company seems to draw inspiration from the construction trade.
GOD Hires the Devil
Robert Westmoreland doesn’t have any friends among designers of hard-core computer games. As a buyer at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., WMT +0.08% Mr. Westmoreland paved the road for casual games, cheap titles often aimed at the mass market instead of hard-core gamers. And he commissioned “Deer Hunter,” a game for hunters that had a budget of $100,000. The game and its sequels have sold more than 3.5 million units since 1997, putting hard-core games backed with multimillion-dollar budgets to shame.
Now the 33-year-old Mr. Westmoreland has signed on as a game producer at Dallas-based Gathering of Developers Inc. GOD, as it is known, was originally formed by an elite band of game designers to create hard-core games — but it now sees Mr. Westmoreland’s easy-to-play, accessible games as a big part of video games’ future. “Among hard-core game designers, you could say Mr. Westmoreland is known as the devil,” says Michael Wilson, chief executive of GOD.
Mr. Westmoreland will head On Deck Interactive, a label that will focus on mass-market games with budgets of $300,000 to $500,000.