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Daily Czech Newspapers Follow Invisible Dog's Lead

Although leading daily Czech newspapers have managed to establish a presence on the Web, and some are becoming fairly popular among users, they can't beat their most successful rival.

Daily news server "Neviditelny Pes"--The Invisible Dog--remains the most visited news Web site in the Czech Republic.

What began in April 1996 as a one man show is now an ambitious and commercially viable project. Ondrej Neff, owner and editor-in-chief of The Invisible Dog, started his venture with six months of experience with sci-fi zine AmberZine, which served him as a testing-bank. Neff, a well-known Czech sci-fi writer and journalist, also took advantage of his previous experience when he worked as columnist for MF Dnes, an influential Czech daily.

"I dreamed about a special kind of newspaper, an entirely personal one expressing my personal opinions as well as opinions of other people wanting to contribute," Neff said.

The Invisible Dog acquired its bizarre name after Neff's late dog (and now present dog) Bart became one of the ubiquitous characters described in the news, together with figures from the "big" world: politicians, business people and writers.

"My dog taught me that every kind of news--world, domestic, family and dogs--are of the same importance from the viewpoint of eternity," he said.

In the beginning, Neff said the site looked like sort of a joke in the best tradition of Czech ironic humor and so-called "samizdat" (homegrown publishing), common in the Soviet bloc countries under Communist regime. The Invisible Dog, however, experienced instant success.

It reached its first million visitors after only 15 months, and its second million six months later. It reached 4 million visitors after being online for only 2 years. The present growth rate, Neff said, is about 40% per month.

The Invisible Dog has a virtual editorial staff of about 50 people, most of them living outside the Czech Republic. In fact, it has regular correspondents in all continents except Antarctica, "which makes me worry," said Neff.

It publishes daily news briefings, columns, commentaries and several supplements. There is also a talkback option and a lot of space provided for discussions, Neff stated.

Czech newspapers and television often quote The Invisible Dog as the source of news and opinions. Its name, once considered funny, has gradually become synonymous with the growing new tradition of electronic journalism.