Ann Limpert
February 25, 2000 AT 05:00 AM EST

Oxygen pumps up the Internet

For a fledgling interactive cable network available in only 10 million homes, Oxygen Media has sure gotten a lot of hype. Why the media fuss? Because, in addition to a well-connected set of parents (TV virtuoso and Nickelodeon creator Geraldine Laybourne, daytime Godzilla Oprah Winfrey, and the Carsey-Werner-Mandabach TV production team of Roseanne and The Cosby Show fame), there’s also the gigantic Oxygen website, which houses tons of pages devoted to the network’s TV shows as well as independent, online-only efforts. The idea is to provide a place where wired women of all ages can go for interactive chick-fests, e-commerce, and helpful information meant to simplify their lives. It’s too early to tell if this ambitious attempt at TV/PC convergence will succeed, but here’s a shot at separating the walkers from the crawlers.

Oprah Goes Online
( In addition to her show’s official site, the queen of solutions and spirituality has created an encouraging place for the cyberstumped to turn for help. We’re happily surprised to find that Oprah’s step-by-step goes beyond online shopping and Net surfing — she and best friend Gayle King attack everything from investing online to building a home page with clarity and enthusiasm. Our one gripe: We don’t consider downloading Oprah- logo wallpaper (one of only two options in the Play section) ”fun.” A-

( If you can overlook the awkward name, you’ll find an ambitious site with the goal of making great style easier and more accessible to Everywoman. But, despite video demonstrations (the director of Unzipped shows a makeup artist applying lip liner in a speeding cab) and a dictionary of trend lingo (just what is a ”Brazilian bikini wax” anyway?), picky feels like a glossy work in progress, relying on user feedback and the contributions of ”e-scouts” (a handful of women prowling the U.S. for regional trends) for content. It will show you how to find a cute raincoat online, but look elsewhere for high fashion, because Vogue this ain’t. B

( With its edgily hip, Web-mod design, this teen-targeted Oxygen original relates most directly to the accompanying show, letting users pitch story ideas, play an interactive game, and choose interview questions for such recent high-profile television guests as Paula Cole and Ben Harper. Populated by collegians (the music reviewers are from the University of Michigan) and culture-savvy teens, it’s the least glaringly estrocentric of Oxygen’s networks. If Trackers lives up to its promise of letting young talent really rule the airwaves, it could become a cyberhub of creativity for the next generation of digital divas. A-

Breakup Girl
( Forget Dr. Laura’s acid tongue and those pesky psychic friends: At Breakup Girl (which launched independently in 1997 and was bought by Oxygen in ’99) you’ll find an adviser to the lovelorn who is endearing, funny, and smart. Though the site’s comic theme borders on gushy girl-power excess (as does — shudder — the recent Valentine’s Day Haiku Contest), the gossip is served fresh and the reader letters are voyeuristic fun. B+

How does Oxygen fare overall? Whether or not the network itself achieves enough cable penetration to go the distance, the website is a nice, and forward-thinking, start. But we’re still waiting to exhale. B+

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