"What's driving AOL's traffic? 40% of it comes from e-mail and chat," said Randy Haykin, chief operating officer of the Mill Valley, Calif.-based company.
A paid staff of celebrity-status conference leaders (such as VRML creator Mark Pesce) will run online conversations from around the globe starting next month (http://www.minds.com).
Backers of electricminds include Mr. Haykin, who worked both at Yahoo! and America Online's Greenhouse ventures group; Howard Rheingold, a former Wired editor who serves as the company's publisher-chief creative officer; and Bill Peck, former ad director at Infoseek, who as director of ad sales for electricminds signed U S West as the site's charter sponsor.
Rates are $60,000 for a three-month run that gives the sponsor premium banner positioning but also lets company-affiliated individuals run and participate in chats.
Mr. Peck admits the ad-edit lines will butt heads, but said, "We really think of this not as advertising, but as `edutizing.'*" U S West will likely choose several individuals to participate in branded conferencing online.