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'Best of Europe' Internet awards dismissed as advertising gimick

Richard Rybníček, executive Director of theInstitute of Public Affairs, was delighted to discover in mid-August that his foundation's web site had been awarded a 'Best of Europe' designation. Although slightly mystified as to the identity of Europe Online, the company who had bestowed the honor, Rybníček was in no doubt as to the merits of his company's web page.
But as the days passed, it became apparent that the Institute was not the only 'Best of Europe' web site in town. The Ministry of Culture, the Slovak press agency SITA, ABC Internet, MA-REK Agency and many others came forward to present their new credentials as Europe's Best sites. As it turned out, almost 450 Slovak web pages had received the same e-mail award.

Richard Rybníček, executive Director of theInstitute of Public Affairs, was delighted to discover in mid-August that his foundation's web site had been awarded a 'Best of Europe' designation. Although slightly mystified as to the identity of Europe Online, the company who had bestowed the honor, Rybníček was in no doubt as to the merits of his company's web page.

But as the days passed, it became apparent that the Institute was not the only 'Best of Europe' web site in town. The Ministry of Culture, the Slovak press agency SITA, ABC Internet, MA-REK Agency and many others came forward to present their new credentials as Europe's Best sites. As it turned out, almost 450 Slovak web pages had received the same e-mail award.

"We were initially very pleased," said Rybníček. "Europe Online announced to us through e-mail that our site had been awarded 'Best of Europe'. Then we found out that it was not only our site which had been awarded."

"As the popular saying goes, too many winners spoil the taste of success," Rybníček added.

Rybníček and the others had been singled out by Europe Online, an Internet service that advertises itself as "the European Gateway to the Internet," and promises users "the best European web sites from all 15 European Union countries as well as Switzerland, Norway, the Czech Republic , Poland and Russia."

The company's web page, at http://www.europeonline.com, now carries Slovakia as a new destination.

"The 'Best of Europe' awards were chosen for presentation on Europe Online in categories such as business, culture and society, which are supposed to represent Slovakia. On the Slovak Internet, this came to about 450 sites." said Pavel Sucha , Europe Online's SlovakiaProject Manager. The basis for choosing these sites, Sucha explained, had been user-friendly presentation, navigation, content and up-to-date information.

"It was just an advertising trick." said Zdeno Rýdl, SITA's marketing and sales director. It was in fact SITA which first publicly announced on August 7 that it had been awarded, but which wrote on August 14 that "[Europe Online] designed a web page that needs to be promoted, because if they get a lot of visitors, in future the provider can get a lot of money for renting the adverstising space."

Contacted by The Slovak Spectator at Europe Online's Luxembourg headquarters,

Sucha said "this wasn't an advertising campaign, it was just an overview of the best Internet sites for each country and in each category." Asked whether it was necessary to award 450 prizes in Slovakia alone, Sucha said it had been an interal decision, and added that the 'Best of Europe' award was after all simply a"symbolic award."

Sucha explained that Europe Online had sent an e-mail message in early August to all 'Best of Europe'winners, which included a Europe Online logo and two different 'Best of Europe' web page tags to choose from. Information about placing the logos and tags on the winners' sites was also furnished. "It was basically supposed to be an exchange of services - we present them on Europe Online, and we ask them to present us on their websites," Sucha said. "So far, about 150 to 200 companies have contacted us and decided to place our logo on their web sites."

But Marek Farkaš, sales director of internet provider MA-REK agency, said that Europe Online's methods were unethical. "All of the best and most important Slovak sites won through non-ethical spamming [unsolicited mailing], where the aim was to provide Europe Online with a link to the 'Best of Europe' sites, and in this way to promote Europe Online."

"Everybody should know that if you award the most visited and really the best sites on the European Internet with a 'Best of Europe' prize, this represents an easy recipe for obtaining dirt-cheap (basically unpaid ) advertising," said Stanislav Vojtanek, director of ABC Internet . "But generally, based on the quality of the information provided on its [home] site, Europe Online is good for the European Internet , [even though the 'Best of Europe' campaign was] a cheap trick to popularize the server," he said.

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