paltrow.com

Ms. Paltrow’s personal publicists have also been withholding about GOOP. After repeated requests, an assistant to Ms. Paltrow’s publicist Steven Huvane said the actress and anyone helping her with the site would be unavailable to speak with The Observer for this article. A visit to GOOP’s headquarters, listed on the site as 7 World Trade Center, also proved fruitless. “I’ve never heard of it,” said a security guard there. He couldn’t even find GOOP listed in the building’s computer system.

But perhaps the secrecy swathing the site, and its frustrating lack of navigability, are an apt reflection of its creator, with her lithe, barely-there bod and fortressing sense of privacy. In interviews, Ms. Paltrow is controlled, with a restraint that seems not ingrained by brand managers, but part of her very lifeblood as a New Yorker. She has always remained relatively tight-lipped about her relationships, with Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck and now Mr. Martin, whom she married in December 2003, and who often scuffles with paparazzi when they try to photograph the couple together, or even mention Ms. Paltrow’s name.

“I think when people talk too much about who they are, and give the world access to every single thing—what kind of face cream they use, what they cook for dinner, and what nicknames they have for their significant others—that’s all you can think about when you see them,” Ms. Paltrow told the BBC in 2004 in an interview promoting Sylvia, in which she starred as the poet Sylvia Plath. “There’s no mystery. I think it’s a shame, because it’s great when you see somebody with mystery act, because you think they’re capable of anything.”

So why is such an avowedly private New Yorker suddenly trying to become an online personality?

“This website has been a long time in the making,” Ms. Paltrow wrote in her maiden newsletter, sent on Sept. 25, around the time of her 36th birthday. “I have thought about it for years and have been recording information and making notes for this very moment …”

GOOP could be a potential cash cow for an actress increasingly limited in her choice of leading roles in youth-obsessed Hollywood. But Ms. Paltrow doesn’t seem to be struggling too hard in that department. This summer, she had critical success as Iron Man’s sexy-librarian leading lady (and is scheduled to appear in the sequel). Two Lovers, a romantic drama in which she plays Joaquin Phoenix’s love interest, is scheduled for a February release stateside. And the same week that GOOP oozed onto the Web, PBS began broadcasting Spain … On the Road Again, in which the actress frolics around Spain with her friend, the chef Mario Batali. Perhaps this Web venture is merely marking a new, warm, accessible multimedia chapter in the actress’s career; it’s also a way to keep in touch with her fans without a scrim of potentially untrustworthy media between them. “Over the years, I have tried lots of different things,” the actress writes in that introductory essay. “I have made lots of mistakes. But I have figured some things out in the process and I would like to share them with you.” Would that she would share more!

And yet with every piece of herself that she metes out to GOOP, Ms. Paltrow risks compromising the self-containment that has long defined her brand. She is stepping into a realm hitherto cornered by celebrities who bank on making their life experiences public. Oprah is the model, with millions following her messages of empowerment. Martha Stewart has cornered the homemaker market with her recipes and crafty how-tos. But what does Gwyneth want?

“I can’t guess her motivations, but we all know celebrity sells,” said Ms. Levy, the DailyCandy founder, who attended Spence with Ms. Paltrow and wrangled her to write a “Favorite Things” feature during the site’s early days. “I don’t know what revenue model she’s thinking of; maybe she’s just doing it for fun. I think it’s great.”

Any advice?

“I would tell her stay true to her vision and have fun with it,” Ms. Levy said. “I would tell her what I would tell any entrepreneur: Make sure your focus is sharp. Know who you are and who you are speaking to.”

And this is where Ms. Paltrow’s GOOP could get sticky. In the current recessionary climate, even her presumed core audience of young shopaholic-spiritual mommies might have more pressing preoccupations than the latest fashion and travel advice from an actress who makes millions of dollars; unless she sharpens the content, adds some humor and tones down the self-involvement, she risks being made an object of ridicule.

“Get more scoop from GOOP,” the actress urges. Know “when GOOP officially opens its doors.”

Gwynnie! You need to open that door a bit wider.

greagan@observer.com