Y. was at a bar with friends when suddenly a faint beeping emitted from his pocket, indicating an incoming SMS text message. He pulled out his phone and read the message on the screen: "Shlomo Artzi was seen with an unfamiliar blonde at the Leo Bloom bar in Tel Aviv." Y. had already forgotten that a day earlier he sent an SMS message to the CelebWatch site reporting that he saw "Omri Sharon eating noodles at Giraffe" - an action that automatically put him on the service's mailing list. At 10:37, just as he was about to fall asleep, the telephone again emitted the familiar beep. This time, Y. discovered that while he was wrapping up his evening, someone else was just starting his. And not just any "someone," but "Mati, from 'Inyan Shel Zman' was at Fishel in Tel Aviv."
Without intending to do so, Y. became part of a network of approximately 200 stalkers who report in real time on the movements of Israeli celebrities and are kept updated on their doings. Just as none of the network members can predict when and where they will spot a celebrity, neither can they guess what situation they might be in when the next message from the CelebWatch service reaches them and what fascinating information it will reveal.
At this stage, most Israeli celebrities are unaware of the site that is intended to document everything they do; this is likely to change in a few weeks, when the vision of its three founders reaches the next stage, and when this happens something very basic in the celebrities' way of life is likely to change.
Currently, anyone who spots a local celebrity - on the street, in a restaurant or any other public venue - is invited to send CelebWatch an SMS message to report on the person's actions; but in a few weeks, the service operators promise, the site will be upgraded and will also include the option of sending photos taken with mobile phone cameras. The site will also have an option for setting additional parameters for incoming messages - for example, receiving messages only about the doings of singer Boaz Sharabi or only about celebrities spotted on Sheinkin Street in Tel Aviv.
The economic model for this gimmick is simple: anyone who sends a message to the site is added to the circulation list and receives up to five SMS messages a day on his phone with reports that appeared on the site. For every incoming message, the subscriber pays 50 agorot, but will not be charged for more than five messages per day. There is also an option that allows the sending of messages but blocks incoming messages; instead, the subcriber can check out the latest on celebrities via the Web site alone.
The site's creators - Dvir Wolk, 29 (the former editor-in-chief of Nana), Itai Naor, 23 (the editor of the magazine on the NRG site), and Ahi Raz, 26 (the editor of Stylissimo, on the same site), describe it as "a gimmick that combines the real world, the cellular world and the Internet and is intended to leverage and channel the inexplicable excitement that grips each of us upon sighting a famous person into more useful directions."
"CelebWatch is the kind of idea that comes up at lunches of people who work on Internet sites," says Wolk, "lots of people have at least five such ideas a week, but we simply had the time to do it."
Naor offers a deeper look into the creative process: "I was set on an idea that would use SMS messages. At first, I thought of something like a mobile phone scoops forum, like the one on Reuters.net, but then we started playing around with the idea and we came up with celebrities."
Wolk: "The concept of celebrity has turned into something that is increasingly shaping our society in all its aspects. I see the site as a sort of revenge on celebrities for destroying our culture, because if this site catches on, it will not be such fun to be a celebrity in Israel. They have been elevated to superstar status and that's why so many people care if someone saw Ninette [last year's winner of "A Star is Born"] eating a sandwich."
Seen in public
Every message sent to the site is vetted by Wolk, Naor or Raz. They also rate the messages on a scale ranging from one to five cellular phone icons, based on the level of interest generated. "Yaheli Sobol [a popular Israeli singer] spotted on Sheinkin" is an occurrence that is as rare as the sun rising in the morning, so it was rated one; "Gila Gamliel [a Likud MK] and her new boyfriend, Amir Turgeman, spotted in the Tel Aviv port" was rated five. "Zvika Pik [a veteran Israeli pop singer] in the back seat of a Buick Phoenix" was rated four and "Yuval Banai [another well-known singer/songwriter] arguing with parking inspectors on Rothschild," received a rating of four cell phones, which appeared alongside the message on the site.
Wolk and Naor stress that the site will only post reports on celebrities seen in public and say, rightly so, that fabricating celebrity sightings misses the point and anyone caught doing so will be permanently disconnected from the system.
According to Naor, CelebWatch has imbued cellular phones with the blog spirit. "Everyone is a content creator and content consumer. What we're doing here is a kind of cultural guerilla action; once we include the option of sending pictures to the site, anyone could be the person who photographs Eli Yatzpan [the host of a comedy talk show] picking his nose. It's a chaotic device and we anticipate more than a little chaos because people still aren't ready for this total accessibility."
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