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CD-ROM Magazine Reviews: 'Medio'; 'Just Think'; 'Nautilus'; 'Substance Digizine'; 'Blender'

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Quick: What are the most compelling features of a magazine? Exactly: You can take it to the john. You can throw it under the desk when your boss walks in. You can rip off the cover and post it on the wall or rip out that stink bomb of a perfume ad and throw it away. In short, a magazine is disposable, portable, malleable.

Which has not stopped a number of multimedia companies from publishing magazines on that most unmalleable of media, the CD-ROM. The idea is that an article that would just lie there on the page gets goosed with video and sound in the disc format. The magazine becomes more like a TV magazine show, except that you choose where to go.

Unfortunately, not all of the CD-ROM mags offer interesting destinations. For instance, the second issue of Medio Magazine (Medio Multimedia, CD-ROM for PC/Windows, $9.95 per issue or $59.95 for 13 issues) is aimed at a broad, USA Today-reading audience and, to that end, has filled its disc with truckloads of Associated Press file reports. And once you get past the main features, the stories include such must-read fare as ”Tibetans Still Fleeing Country 35 Years After Dalai Lama.” As for the videos, unless clips of Jackie Onassis, previews of The Lion King, and state travel ads get you breathing hard, don’t bother.

The second issue of Just Think [An Interactive] (ad hocINTERACTIVE, CD-ROM for PC/Windows and Mac, $19.95 per issue or $39.95 for four issues) shoots for a more cerebral audience but ends up being equally scattershot. An article about sexual harassment on the Internet is smartly written, but a Nixon postmortem is unfocused and unduly snide. And while the graphics are lovely, ; this puppy is slow. Imagine having to wait five seconds before turning each page of Entertainment Weekly, and you’ll get the picture.

More successful are those CD-ROM mags that cater to the wired and the young. The ideal user for the elegantly designed NautilusCD (Metatec, CD-ROM for PC/Windows and Mac, $6.95 per issue or $79.95 for 12 issues) would seem to be a sensitive Silicon Valley upper-management type. How Red is this Zinger? There are regular Windham Hill and National Public Radio features. But there are also a useful CD-ROM directory and well-thought-out click-and-listen interviews with software gurus and game producers. It’s niche-y but nice.

Decidedly not nice — but ab fab to behold — are the premier issues of Substance Digizine (Substance Interactive Media, CD-ROM for PC/Windows, $19.95 per issue or $75 for four issues) and Blender (Dennis Publishing, CD-ROM for PC/Windows and Mac, $19.95 per issue or $49.95 for five issues), two CD-ROM magazines that court the hard-moshin’ Gen X crowd. Substance is West Coast-based, which shows up in its trippier topics and opaque-unto-annoyance interface. It’s a tad slow, but the features are tasty: a visit with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (replete with an MTV-censored video), a look at the anarchic public- service ads that filmmaker Jim McKay creates with pop luminaries such as Michael Stipe. The ambient-music review section is structured like a bad video game, though, and the overall feel is like being locked in a room with brilliant teenage potheads.

Blender, in contrast, is like being locked in a room with brilliant teenage speed freaks. The graphics are very bright, the sensibility very arch, and the tone inches toward shrieky hysteria every other screen. But when it’s good, Blender is the best of the bunch. An interview with Alice Cooper is properly awestruck (the user has to pass a Worthiness Test to see it), and the video tour of Henry Rollins’ house is almost as inspired as the we-go-shopping-for- underwear-with-Luscious Jackson segment. The music reviews run the gamut from Future Sound of London to Regis Philbin, and the two guys from They Might Be Giants reading the horoscopes are a hoot. Best of all, Blender runs quickly, which means you can skedaddle out of the lousy segments, like the failed comedy of ”Therapist to the Stars”). For a magazine, it has a ways to go. For a CD-ROM, it’s pretty good. If I could afford a laptop so I could take it to the can, I might even subscribe. Medio: D+ Just Think: C- Nautilus: B- Substance Digizine: B- Blender: B