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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Websites for youth

The Guardian reported recently on the demise of CareZone, a website run by a UK charity:
CareZone was set up in early 2004 by the Who Cares? Trust, a charity. It was an online forum where, until July, young people in care could seek support and advice--from teachers, agony aunts and friends...

In its short history, the service--called CZ World by the young people who used it--was acknowledged by ministers, local government and Futurebuilders [a government-backed finance scheme that offers loans to charities] as trailblazing, ahead of its time, and popular.
The trigger for the demise... was that the number of local authority subscribers--essential if the loan to Futurebuilders was to be repaid on time--fell short.
Sounds like a much-needed site that is missed.

Hopefully it will be revived one day, perhaps as a site open to all young people, though there is some evidence that this sort of site needs to be focused on a specific geographic area. CareZone's was focused locally, rather than intended for the internet at large, and this might be one reason it succeeded. Researchers at NYU's ITP have found that locally-focused sites are able to attract a core of users more quickly, perhaps because the local focus makes it easier for users to imagine the site is home to a community.

That is certainly what my friend Ashran and I found when we revived Culpa, the student-run professor-review site at Columbia. Course review sites existed already at that point, but they did not attract contributors as quickly as our Columbia-themed one. I like to think this was because of our attention to Columbia-specific knowledge and a memorable editorial tone, but it might have just been because using a site focused on one's own school encourages the sense of being part of a group of like people, a Benedict Anderson-style imagined community.

My girlfriend Kate and I have an idea for a website for teenagers. (Feel free to steal it, I'd love to see someone do something like this, and besides, ideas for websites have no real value). The site would report on current events in a way understandable to people with poor reading ability and little background knowledge of political and world affairs--e.g., the students we have taught in New York City. It would digest news stories into short, animated paragraphs with simple wording and short sentences, and ask readers often to take stands on controversial questions. I guess that would make it occupy a place on the scale of news sophistication on the other side of Newsweek, Time and USAToday from the NYTimes.

Do people know of anything that occupies this space now, and is good?