Boston might boast one of today's hottest tech communities, but a Beantown animation company thinks L.A. is the place to be.

Bali Hai Entertainment Inc. provides interactive online entertainment for children and families, and is moving its corporate headquarters and operations into a new office in the Mid-Wilshire area.

President Tracy Huston decided at the turn of the New Year to move the company to L.A., primarily to be near creative talent in terms of both prospective employees and potential strategic partners.

"Boston is a tremendous place for technology, but it lacks the entertainment-industry sensibility," said Huston, in a phone interview last week from her Massachusetts home. "We feel a closer kinship with the folks creating stories than with the technology community. What we want to tap into in terms of the talent and expertise is out there, it's not here."

Huston arrived in L.A. just in time for the World Animation Celebration last weekend. The company's 25 employees will have relocated here by July 1, and the new 13,000-square-foot office space will accommodate a planned expansion that will double the staff over the next year.

Huston founded Bali Hai, at www.balihighway.com, in 1997. "It was formed for artists who wanted to create literature of value and art of value, and at the same time give kids and their parents what they want in terms of interactivity and game-like qualities," she said.

Balihighway.com's features include "Fractal Fairy Tales," in which an educational story unfolds as users click on various animated graphics, such as a fluttering butterfly or a spinning globe.

A Dubious Distinction

Tech companies with a full-service video arcade in the middle of the office probably need not apply, but if your workspace is drab and depressing, you could win $10,000 in furniture.

Malibu-based SmallOffice.com has joined with a San Francisco-based business furnishings sales site, NextOffice.com, to spearhead a contest to find "America's Ugliest Office."

Judgment criteria will include clutter, bad color schemes, poor design, bad furniture and lighting, and overall tackiness. A panel of five judges will narrow the submissions down to the worst five offices, and SmallOffice.com users will vote on the ultimate winner (or is it loser?).

Entrants can e-mail photos of their offices by June 15 to uglyoffice@smalloffice.com. And keep in mind that you've got to impress celebrity judge Max Gail, who played Detective WoJo on "Barney Miller," set in a hideously ugly police precinct/jail. Good luck!

Shopping Survey

It seems that as people have grown more accustomed to the Internet, they've grown more comfortable conducting online transactions.

Women are increasingly flocking to the Internet to satisfy their shopping needs, and only about 16 percent of Internet users have never made an online purchase. Of that group, about half have been using the Internet for six months or less, according to a new survey.

"What we've seen is that credit card concerns are yesterday's concerns," said Lance Rosenzweig, CEO of Westwood-based PeopleSupport, which conducted the survey with the help of an outside firm.

PeopleSupport, which provides 24-hour outsourced customer service for other companies' Web sites, has handled more than 1 million online inquiries since its inception in 1998, meaning its representatives are on the front lines of dealing with consumer concerns. After anecdotal patterns emerged regarding the demographics and complaints of online shoppers, the company decided to commission its survey about online shopping habits.

Women comprise 63 percent of people who shop online several times a week, the survey showed, a significant figure considering that five years ago only 15 percent of Internet users were women.

"Women have become a significant buying force online," Rosenzweig said. "They've always been the majority of buyers offline, now online they've caught up rapidly and passed men."

Only 5.1 percent of total survey respondents categorized themselves as shopping online several times a week. Nineteen percent of Internet users shop at least once a week, 22 percent shop once a month, and 43 percent shop online a few times a year.

Half the respondents who never shop online said they are fairly new to the Web, with six months or less online experience. Because people making purchases through e-commerce are more likely to be experienced Internet users, and therefore more comfortable with the medium, they tend to be more concerned about the products they're buying than the technology they're using.

"Their questions are product-related: is the item in stock, what are the return policies, when can I get delivery, does it work with other items, depending on the type of product?" Rosenzweig said. "There's a seriousness of purpose, that if they can get this answer, they'll buy it. It's not Internet-y questions. It's shopping questions."

Staff reporter Laura Dunphy can be reached at ldunphy@labusinessjournal.com.

Site of the Week-- www.Black-Kat.com
Though it sounds like it could be a Web site for the superstitious, www.Black-Kat.com is actually a site offering a wide array of information about traditional Japanese culture, as well as the way it has adapted to Los Angeles.

The locally based site has something for everyone, from features on the rough Japanese animation style known as "anime," to a photo essay from the O-Bon festival held every August by the Japanese-American community in Los Angeles, to scores of recipes for rice, tofu, vegetables and traditional cold-weather meals.

Users who aren't fans of anime might not appreciate the dozen or so features on the animation style, including a trading card collection feature or reports on major industry conventions.

But other elements, such as a guide to the history of the kimono, are geared to a wider variety of users and are interesting as well as visually pleasing. Not only does the feature on the kimono explain the history of the garment, it is also accompanied by photos of intricately patterned and brightly colored 19th century robes.

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