Out of the womb, onto the Web

Make baby's first Internet connection in the maternity ward.

By Gina Shaw

Published June 26, 2000 7:03PM (EDT)

Why wait until baby's hands are big enough to click a mouse to get your kids online? Heck, your infant needn't be big enough to hold its own head up for you to start beaming his or her little presence across the Internet. Meet BabyPressConference.com, a new service for proud new parents who can't wait to unveil their latest creation to the world.

Alison Johnston was 1 day old when she made her media debut in January at the maternity ward of Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Penn., courtesy of the company that treats your newborn infant with the same style as a Microsoft product announcement. The gimmick is simple: Parents and new baby can meet relatives and friends for an online gawk-fest, in a password-protected live "press conference" webcast in streaming audio and video.

Mom and Dad (or the parental units of your choice) reserve time in front of the specially equipped computer kiosk placed in the hospital's maternity ward free of charge by BabyPress, and e-mail the invitations. Grandma in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Uncle Ted in Los Angeles can then download needed software, log in at the appointed time and meet the new arrival. Viewers can type instant-message style questions and comments to the proud family, and immediately hear and see the responses.

BabyPress is now live in 35 hospitals across the country, and president Lee Perlman expects to be working with more than 200 by the end of the summer. "We've got a killer app that simply defies everything else that's happening on the Internet," says Perlman. "We're using the Internet for what it was made to be used for -- connection. We're recreating family."

Perhaps the notion that webcasting can re-invent the family may be overblown, but Paul and Tammy Johnston were happy to make their baby a Web star. Among the first new parents to use the service, the Johnstons broadcast Alison's arrival in Allentown to family in Philadelphia, New Jersey -- and Paul's dad, in Tanzania, and mom, in Stockholm, Sweden. Paul's parents are both in the Foreign Service; when Alison's big brother Matthew was born in 1997, they were stationed in Barbados and didn't get to see the new baby for more than two months. Alison's birth was a whole different experience. "We held her up to the camera and they were oohing and aahing just as if they were in the room," says Paul. "My father isn't a very excitable person, but you could tell how thrilled he was by all the exclamation points he was using."

So if BabyPress is free to hospitals and families, how does it make money? Shopping, baby, shopping. After they've met their new grandchild, niece or godson, the assembled "media" can buy gifts from e-tail partners including Toys 'R' Us, Parents magazine and Godiva Chocolatier. The family can also purchase more Web time and archives of the webcast. So not only can baby be a Web star in diapers, she can reap the wonders of e-commerce before she's more than a few days old.

Gina Shaw

Gina Shaw is a freelance writer in Washington who writes frequently about the Internet, health and travel.


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