Two local companies are aiming to create a children's alternative to the wide-open Internet, a kind of electronic clubhouse they can access through their television sets.
SharkWire Online is intended for children 7 to 14, a closed electronic community in which they can exchange e-mail, play games and find out about their favorite stuff, from skateboarding to bands. It's a risky idea, with so many young people already comfortable using the Web or America Online from their PCs.
Still, the creators of the product, Web programmer Proteus of Washington and Internet game company InterAct Accessories Inc. of Hunt Valley, Md., hope their content will entice kids to come their way, and they are counting on parents to like the fact that the community will provide automatic protection from the dangers on the Web. They hope to have it in stores by November.
The system, with a see-through electric-blue keyboard, works with an analog phone line as an add-on to the Nintendo 64 video-game system. The kids (or, more likely, their parents) pay about $80 for the device and $10 a month for access.
The fact that the system connects only to sites that SharkWire creates--not the rest of the Internet--is both its biggest limitation and a main selling point.
Proteus President Patrick McQuown says he thinks people will buy it as a secondary Internet access device, one for the kids to use when Mom and Dad want to be on the computer.
It's simply not clear yet whether people will want to get online through their TVs at all. Even if they do, products such as SharkWire face competition from big players such as WebTV, owned by Microsoft Corp., and America Online, which plans to launch its own AOLTV in 2000.
But Proteus and InterAct see other online television devices as completely different.
"We think of WebTV as your grandfather's Internet," says Steven Pearson, president of D3 Networks of Arlington, which works with InterAct on the project. "Yeah, actually I just recommended WebTV to my grandfather," joked Timothy Shey, creative director of Proteus.
McQuown's vision is for SharkWire to become a cult classic for gamers. "It's all about these kids saying to their friends, 'I'm at level seven, sucker,' " he says.
West Coast techies were already slamming Virginia for proclaiming itself "Internet C@pital" on a specialty license plate.
So when the Central Intelligence Agency announced last week that it would create its own venture-capital firm based in the Valley called In-Q-It, a new round of razzing began. The CIA's $150 million fund, whose directors will include locals Jeong Kim of Lucent and Alex Mandl of Teligent, was the last straw.
Venture-capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson of Redwood City was so fed up (and amused) that it put out a statement on its new competition, listing 10 friendly suggestions it said it sent, via encrypted e-mail, to CIA headquarters in Langley.
Here are our favorites:
* The only bugs we have out here are in our software.
* The term "taking out" is a little different out here. When we do it, we're taking a company public.
* "Hits" are what we call visits to Web sites, not what you know them as.
* Collecting eyeballs is not to be taken literally.
* Change the name. Nothing is centralized here in Silicon Valley.
"We have noticed a strange clicking noise in our phones since this story surfaced, and I have advised Steve Jurvetson not to take the same route to the Ultimate Frisbee games on Friday," says Draper's Barry Hutchison.
Steve Walker is spending fast, and now he's ready to take other people's money.
Walker, who made his first investment one year ago tomorrow as the money man behind Steve Walker & Associates of Glenwood, has turned into one of the most prolific technology investors in the Washington area. He's funded 18 companies in the past year. Walker invests small amounts just as a company gets off the ground, so the total investment is only about $4 million.
But now that some of his companies, such as BioNetrix and Zona Financiera, are becoming bigger and need a larger cash infusion, Walker has decided to raise a second fund to make heftier investments and to avoid dilution of his first investments.
While the first fund was all Walker's own money--proceeds from the buyout of Trusted Information Systems, where he was chief executive--this second fund will take money from other investors. Walker thinks it will be a $35 million fund; he'll put in about $3.5 million himself.
"We think we can do 18 more [companies] next year," says Walker.
Andrew Jacobson is changing roles: He'll soon be a new managing director of MCG Credit Corp. of Arlington, which lends to and invests in publishing and technology companies. MCG is majority owned by investment affiliates of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
Jacobson is leaving his job as president of Post-Newsweek Business Information Inc., a subsidiary of The Washington Post Co. that publishes technology magazines and newspapers. Charles Lyons, currently president of the Gazette Newspapers, also owned by the Post Co., will become the new president of PNBI.
Send tips and tales of the digital capital's local people, deals and events to Shannon Henry at email@example.com.
CAPTION: Proteus President Patrick McQuown uses SharkWire Online, a closed network for children, as his creative director, Timothy Shey, watches.