TOOL & TOYS: IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE

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So you're surfing the Web from home, poking along as fast as your 28.8K modem can go. And you wait, and wait and wait. Which is why you've got the TV on and a stack of magazines piled next to your monitor. Not exactly the definition of an immersive medium.

Now there's Zing, a whizzy, patented technology from San Francisco startup Zing Networks, which promises fast, fast relief from the tedium of the World Wide Wait. Install the free Zing player (available at www.zing.com) and Zing fills the gaps between Web sites with entertaining animations, cartoons, educational flash cards that deliver French and Spanish tutorials in bite-sized chunks, sound clips, miniature art exhibits and gorgeous nature photography. And it all happens, literally, in the blink of an eye, while the page you've asked for downloads in the background. As soon as the contents on the page is loaded, Zing exhibits the good manners to get out of the way, shrinking to a thumbnail sized image map in the corner of your screen.

For consumers, it's a way to relieve the boredom of waiting for a Web page to download from a server. Users can choose to receive Zing content at random, or they can choose one of eight channels for targeted information that matches their interests. For marketers, it's an opportunity to participate in what could be the invention of a brand new medium, albeit one that happens interstitially, between the content that the consumer is asking for. Already Zing has partnered with Rolling Stone, Car & Driver, Universal Studios, Premiere, Chronicle Books and others to provide content.

As the Zing Web site copy puts it: "Zing's persistence lets us guarantee that the content/advertising ratio will never fall below 9 to 1. Such an advantageous ratio provides an optimal user experience while maintaining a clutter-free environment. This results in an ideal level of branding and message recall." Additional zingers are Zing's ability to target specific demographics based on age, gender or locale, not to mention its customized channel selection, which offers specific content to a receptive audience. Moreover, Zing employs Macromedia's "easy-to-use" Flash, claims the site, so advertisers can create their spots in Flash, Illustrator, Freehand or CorelDraw.

While America may never be Zinging in perfect harmony, if you're in the business of creating these ads and leveraging branded entertainment online, Zing may well

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