The Digital Amazon

Maverick: Stephanie Brail muscles onto the Web with grrl power

| July/August 1998

Five-feet-eight and skinny as a model, ramrod-poised in DKNY sunglasses and high-heeled mules, the 28-year-old blond in stretch pants is blowing away the bums along the Venice Beach boardwalk. They tell her she looks 'just fi-i-ne,' but her head never turns. The mules maintain their clip as she heads back to the candlelit apartment that doubles as the worldwide headquarters for her unlikely online empire.

Stephanie Brail is a digital Amazon.

More specifically, she's the founder of Digital Amazon, a Web consulting firm with clients ranging from health-care giant Kaiser Permanente to the nonprofit Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women. She's also the brains behind Amazon City, an online women's community, and one of the driving forces behind the growing women's presence in cyberspace.

The whole idea behind Digital Amazon, she says, is to support and promote women as they strive for success. That's a daunting mission, given the testosterone coursing through the Net, and Brail knows firsthand how brutally male the medium can be. In 1993 she found herself in the middle of a flame war that morphed into a case of e-mail stalking so terrifying that she began practicing martial arts for self-defense. 'That's when I decided that I wanted to get more women on the Internet, to even things out,' she says.

Five years later, things are beginning to even out -- more women are getting online -- partly because of Brail's work. Like any young entrepreneur with no venture capital, she logs 60- to 80-hour workweeks. She also fights a constant battle with chronic fatigue immunodeficiency syndrome, which requires daily naps and causes occasional bouts of 'brain fog.' Still, Brail has managed, on a shoestring, to develop some of the most successful women-oriented sites on the Net. Her Amazon City Radio, launched last year, is the only radio station on the Web offering women-oriented music, talk, news, and public affairs programming. The Amazon City online community attracts as many as half a million page views a month.

Meanwhile, women-oriented sites are attracting corporate sponsors. 'This is not a bad thing,' Brail says, 'but I think a lot of women are downright suspicious of glitzy, advertisement-driven Web sites.'

And many of these sites avoid political content at all costs. 'Say the word bitch on your Web site and that's enough for an ad campaign to be pulled,' Brail says. 'Sometimes you'll actually find more controversial stuff in the traditional women's magazines.'

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