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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 06:09 GMT

Business: The Company File

Beenz means business

Beenz: Aims to be commonplace by the year 2000

That old adage of getting something for nothing never fails to arouse suspicion, but that is exactly what Beenz, a new "global internet currency", promises.

Beenz says it has come up with a "radical alternative to money" for the Internet in the form of an electronic credit.

It says that following Beenz's launch on Tuesday, the Internet will "create a new generation of e-millionaires".

So what is it all about?

Beenz is both the name of the company, and the product itself, which could be classed as virtual money.

[ image: E-traders with their noses to the grindstone]
E-traders with their noses to the grindstone
It is jumping headlong into the fast-growing world of e-commerce, where people buy and sell goods on the Internet.

According to the blurb, Beenz can be earned by Web-surfers "shopping online or by simply visiting a Website".

"They can then be saved in a personal Beenz bank account and spent at participating Websites".

In other words, the aim is for companies to buy Beenz to give them away free to users of their site. This should, in theory, increase traffic to their Websites, and sell off certain products or information to intrepid net-surfers.

The perk for the Web-user is that they do not have to pay a penny for Beenz - they are free provided Web pages offering Beenz are visited. Freebies should abound, if company predictions are accurate.

'Big Beenz'

Chief Executive Philip Letts, who prefers to be known as "Big Beenz", was keen to push his new product when he spoke to BBC News Online.

He firstly explained where the name came from, saying: "You get something just for having been there."

He reckons there will be around one billion Beenz in circulation by the end of May, and that by the year 2000 more than 10 million consumers will have active Beenz accounts.

Paddy Ashdown's former speechwriter

But the mastermind behind Beenz is its Chief Technology Officer Charles Cohen, who apparently prefers to be known as "Beenz Brains".

Mr Cohen was former speechwriter for Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown in the early 1990s before setting up his own Web design agency.

He can lay claim to launching the first political Website on the Internet for the Liberals, and hit on the idea of Beenz a year ago.

He sees Beenz as an appealing addition to any Website.

"Standard Web banner ads are notoriously inefficient, but the prospect of earning Beenz will act as a magnet to participating Websites," he said.

Mr Letts was also keen to stress that Beenz provided complete security to Websites buying their product.

What about porn sites?

It is hoped that e-commerce will help boost the flagging UK retail industry, according to a recent report by Verdict.

Mr Letts subscribes wholeheartedly to this view, and Beenz will be allowed to bounce around the world of e-commerce as part of a "free market". He said there would be no intervention from the company itself to alter the value of Beenz.

But if it is completely hands-off, would its customers, or "merchants", include pornographic Websites?

"At the end of the day, control or security or filtering sites like that is down the governments and parents in my view," said Mr Letts. "It's not our job."

If a Website offered child pornography videos in exchange for Beenz, would it still stand back from the situation?

Wait and see

Mr Letts remained non-committal. "We will look at that as it happens," he said. "We've got to build an economy, and we're doing it from scratch.

"But it's really too early for this sort of discussion. We can have it in a few weeks, when we're out.

"You can chase me up on that," he added.

The company has support from database software company Oracle, hardware giant Sun Microsystems and Exodus, a leading provider of Internet systems.

[ image: Mr Letts says Beenz will appeal to
Mr Letts says Beenz will appeal to "everyone"
They are providing technology and will ultimately be suppliers of Beenz. Oracle's UK Managing Director Philip Crawford says the new "currency" will be "one of the hottest properties on the Internet".

But are there going to be enough "medium-sized" companies to give Beenz the sort of hits it is expecting?

Mr Letts would not be pressed on how many companies had already signed up, but he said that Beenz, which employs 25 people, had raised "millions of dollars".

Shop 21 Store, an online consumer electronics shop, appears to be a convert to the concept.

"The Web is full of items clamouring for attention and we expect Beenz to help us win that attention," said 21 Store's Managing Director Michael King.

'Unknown quantity'

But a ring-around of various companies, including, the world's biggest online bookstore, and Fletcher Research Internet analysts, proved unfruitful.

All the companies contacted would not comment on Beenz, preferring to wait until the product is actually in use before forming an opinion. A spokesman from Fletcher Research described it as an "unknown quantity".

But Beenz was wished "good luck" by BarclaySquare, Barclays Bank's online shopping Website.

"It's difficult to comment on only a press release, but we'll definitely watch this space", said a spokeswoman.

"We welcome any online activity."

So,only time will tell as to whether Beenz is just another gimmick, or if it is about to revolutionise the Internet.

But it will not be difficult to find out. Just surf the Internet and see.

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