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WE'RE NAVEL GAZERS; Millions log on to belly button site.

Byline: JANE FINDLAY

IT'S the 233-year-old bible of wisdom and authority.

But now the once-stuffy Encyclopaedia Britannica has shed its old image and gone racy.

And, incredibly, the transformation has come about thanks to teen sensation Britney Spears - and her navel.

The internet version of the 32-volume, leather-bound encyclopaedia includes a lengthy debate on the 19-year-old chart-topper's belly button.

Editors, who argue they've had to spice up their subject matter to compete in the 21st Century, commissioned a 2000-word article on Britney's tum, which is pierced and sports a jewelled stud.

And they were so inundated with online "hits" that, at one stage, the site had to be closed down.

Featuring a picture of the scantily-clad teen pin-up, the page describes Britney's navel as "a heated boundary between baby and babe".

It continues: "There have been bare midriffs before, but there was something different about this particular expression that lofted the lithe teen to a unique position in the pantheon of teen pop stars.

"Halfway between head and genitalia, not strictly sexual, but - like Spears herself - not that innocent either."

It's certainly a topic which couldn't be further removed from the old high-brow entries in Britannica, which used to be sold by door-to-door salesmen.

Even authors of the website have been amazed at the monster rush to get the low-down on Britney's midriff since it was first featured last September.

Fans can wait up to an hour before finally getting through to the site containing the breathless, belly button prose.But whether the website masterminds decide to broaden the picture to include other stars with pierced tums is open to debate.

Britney's biggest rival, teen star Christina Aguilera, has had her belly done and may attract worldwide interest as would Madonna, widely credited as starting the trend in the 80s.

But Coronation Street actress Tracy Shaw, another piercing devotee, might not carry sufficient international interest to boost the number of online "hits".

Up to now, the Britannica was the knowledge source parents turned to when children needed help with homework or other must-get-it right projects.

Serious, dry and interesting, it was founded by William Smelly in Edinburgh in 1768, but by the mid-90s, sales had evaporated.

Then, in 1996 an eagle-eyed Swiss entrepreneur put the oldest and biggest name in encyclopaedias on the internet.

He snapped up the title and has overseen the transition from a pounds 1200 set of books to a CD-rom costing pounds 40 and a free website. As well as Britney and her navel, britannica.com also includes a steamy page on US TV show Sex And The City.

A spokesman admitted the radical change of direction was taken after the book blasted on to the world wide web.

He said: "You have to make adjustments for the medium and that's what we have done. Like every dotcom, we have had to look hard at what we do.

"We found 85 per cent of people came to us from search engines, so we looked at what search terms were requested more than any other. Britney Spears ranked highly. Her name is one of the most searched-for on the net."

Since its launch in 1999, britannica .com has been one of the most popular sites - with 17million "hits" a month.

Self-proclaimed virgin Britney, currently dating N'Sync singer Justin Timberlake, caused a stir when she had her navel pierced while on tour last year.

It was the first step on the road to her ditching the goody-two-shoes image she sported when she rose to fame singing smash hit Baby One More Time in a sexy school uniform at the age of 16.

The star, regularly voted one of the most fancied women on the planet, unveiled the emerald jewel while on stage in a bra and hot pants number.

The pop princess, who claims she doesn't believe in sex before marriage, spiced up her image even more by having her nipples pierced.

Church-goer Britney, who once exchanged e-mails with Prince William, had the work done on a trip to Hawaii but kept it secret for six months.

Britney's sassy new appearance and behaviour, however, provoked rumours she was going off the rails. Her deeply- religious parents Lynne and Jamie worried that fame had gone to their daughter's head after she allegedly went on a bender in Germany, sinking cocktails and dancing on a bar top.

She said at the time: "I always wanted to have my belly button pierced. It's cool. I think the navel is a very beautiful part of the body and it seems a great shame to keep it hidden away."

Psychology writer Deirdre Day-MacLeod, who wrote the navel article for britannica.com, believes the fascination for belly buttons is inbuilt.

She says it's a part of the body most people are fascinated by because, while once it gave life, it serves no purpose.

She said: "The signatory knot that ties up nothing and goes nowhere holds more erotic charms for some than the conventional attractions."

So, for britannia.com and Britney, it's a case of hit me one more time.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 11, 2001
Words:846
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