Want an Online World?

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Comcast High-Speed Internet (www.comcast.net ) is taking another step to add new content to its broadband portal, adding content from There Inc., which has created an online world of chat, gaming and community.

'It's a combination of communication and entertainment,' said There chief marketing officer Andy Donkin. 'It's a place to hang out with friends online and make choices in what activity you want to participate in.'

Over the past eight months, There tested the concept with 27,000 Internet users. The company handpicked a cross-section of Americans aged 29 to 49, slightly skewed towards women.

Users can explore three 'lands' and race hoverboards, buggies or jetpacks, shoot paintball guns, engage in treasure and scavenger hunts or participate in fashion shows, game shows or trivia nights.

There participants can drink, dance and party in 'bars,' 'clubs' and 'private homes,' or build and decorate their own houses. They can also organize their own clubs, sports leagues and villages.

'There are ways to make it a closed environment,' Donkin said, so a group of friends or family members can interact in their own online worlds. 'You can set permission to enter into house for a party. You can create an invitation-only event.'

There are even 'Therebucks,' an online currency people can use to buy products. The average tester spent about $7 per month, Donkin said.

The 27,000 test users were culled from a list of 180,000 people who registered on the site. About 75% of the test users had broadband connections, Donkin said.

Members averaged two sessions per week, with the average online session lasting two-and-a-half hours.

Donkin said the 27,000 users tended to coalesce into two basic groups: Those that knew each other in real life, and those that didn't.

On Oct. 27, There will open up its Web site to the world, for consumers to enter.

Donkin said the company would manage how many new people enter There to make sure users get a quality experience.

New members will be charged a $19.95 one-time registration fee, then $4.95 per month. They'll also purchase a supply of 'There' money to begin making purchases.

Donkin plans to add voice and music features for an additional cost, so users can play music from an Internet Shoutcast playlist or talk to their online friends.

Comcast likes the service, Donkin said, 'because it's differentiated content.' (The MSO declined comment on the There launch.) There will appear inside the gaming section of Comcast's online portal, he said.

Added Donkin: 'Comcast wants to create programming and this is distinct programming. This is how we [can help them] differentiate themselves with customers.'

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