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THE CUTTING EDGE / CYBERNEWS | HEARD ON THE BEAT

Web Site That Brings Net Users Together Is on Verge of Falling Apart

June 23, 1997|GREG MILLER

Electric Minds, a Web site launched in November with the aim of building communities of people on the Internet, is on the brink of financial collapse, according to founder Howard Rheingold.

Rheingold, author of the 1993 book "The Virtual Community" and a creator of Wired magazine's Hotwired site, said he remains as confident as ever in the Net's potential as a virtual meeting place.

But the possible demise of his site illustrates just how difficult it can be to bridge the gap between conceptual nobility and commercial viability on the Net.

"The community-building part turned out to be very successful," said Rheingold, who said the site often got up to 90,000 visits a day. "The problem is cash."

Electric Minds, at http:// www.minds.com, was conceived as an experiment in fostering online relationships. The site featured columns about virtual cultures as well as links to the Web's best digital watering holes. Time magazine named the site one of the 10 best on the Web in 1996.

Ad revenue was meager, however, and Rheingold said the San Francisco-based enterprise never reached the point where it could charge a subscription fee.

Softbank Corp. of Japan had bankrolled the site from the early going, pumping in about $1.75 million since its inception, Rheingold said. But Softbank balked at further funding last spring, and Electric Minds subsequently laid off 10 of its 14 staffers.

Rheingold continues to search for new backers, or perhaps a buyer. But that is a more difficult proposition now than it was a year ago, when investors seemed to be tripping over one another to toss money at any Internet idea.

"We're still talking to one party interested in acquiring the company," Rheingold said. "But if that falls through, we don't have any other prospects."

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