THE BEST ONLINE COMMUNITY SITES
by Christy Epstein
In just a few
short years, the expression dot-com has morphed from digerati jargon
into a common lunchtime phrase at the local senior center. Everybody
wants in on the action, and it's no longer just teenagers, day
traders, and porn enthusiasts who inhabit the greater part of
cyberspace. Indeed, as measured by Media Metrix, X-rated content
was the category with the least growth in 1999, a year that was
marked by increased diversity. In the seemingly endless universe of
the Web, there appears to be room for all of us.
Proving that "if you build it, they will come," the
female-centric iVillage.com and Women.com now rank consistently
among Media Metrix's Top 50 most-visited sites. Thanks in part to
such hangouts as SeniorNet,
older Americans are also logging on: Folks over 55 now make up 7.5
percent of Web users, a figure expected to climb as the boomer
population ages. People seem to want a central place to gather that
addresses their unique concerns, spawning the growth of hubs that
speak to a particular community.
Minority groups that had lagged behind began closing the digital
divide in 1999, when Black Entertainment Television launched BET.com, and such Latin American
gateways as Star Media and
El Sitio expanded their reach
to the Hispanic-American market. Forrester Research predicts that 40
percent of African-American households will be online by the end of
2000, with Latino households (43 percent) running virtually neck and
neck with white (44 percent), and Asian-Americans way ahead of the
pack with a projected 68 percent. Beyond broad demographic groups,
niche communities continue to spring up for every subculture, from
body piercers to model-train hobbyists, along with e-merchants eager
to sell them belly-button rings and miniature tracks.
BEST CITY GUIDE SITE:
Browse what's happening in more than 35 cities
nationwide, then find a date, make dinner reservations, and buy
tickets for a show online. How does CitySearch do it? For starters,
it teamed up with Ticketmaster Online. Then it acquired Match.com
and MSN Sidewalk entertainment content. Now strategically allied
with CityAuction, which posts local as well as worldwide sales, the
site puts more one-stop leisure-time planning power in your hands.
ALSO: AOL's Digital City (AOL Keyword:
Digital City) casts a wider net, with local guides to more than 60
BEST KIDS COMMUNITY:
Kids may be learning to use computers at the age of
three, but that doesn't mean they're ready to surf a Web designed
for more mature eyes. Here, children 12 years old and and younger
can build their own Web sites and engage in fun, interactive
learning activities. There are no chat rooms, so there's no need to
worry about unwanted lurkers. But kids can post on message boards
and send e-mail to the site's fictional characters, who will
actually write back.
ALSO: Cyberkids is another creative
playroom, where kids can enjoy games, read and post stories, and
chat in a safe environment (with parents' permission).
BEST TEEN COMMUNITY :
Jobs and money.
College. Music. Poetry. Sex and dating. Bolt has the edge on these
topics with such articles as "My Job Sucks So Bad I Lost My Hair"
and "Dating Disasters." There are also chat rooms, home pages, and
essays written by teens, thousands of whom are logged on at any hour
of the day. A member is spotlighted daily, so sign up and let your
peers get to know you.
ALSO: For young
teen women, Gurl shines an
intelligent light on palm reading, clothes swapping, and Claire
BEST SENIOR COMMUNITY:
SeniorNet (AOL Keyword:
The directive of SeniorNet is to get people over the age
of 50 online‹not necessarily an easy task when dealing with a
generation that has lived most of its life without the Net. But this
nonprofit continues its stellar success, helping more than 30,000
members. Off-line, the 160 computer learning centers conduct the
mission. Online, chat and discussion boards are where the action is.
SeniorNet RoundTables host hundreds of message boards on everything
from arts and crafts to World War II memories.
ALSO: ThirdAge is a fun, educational
hangout for active older folks. For news and advice on senior
issues, head to the AARP
BEST WOMEN'S NETWORK:
iVillage started its
Web presence with Parent Soup. Now more than a million members
strong, it has since become the Net's premier portal for women.
Benefits include the usual chats, message boards, instant messaging,
and free home pages, plus such perks as interactive menu makers,
pregnancy calendars, and grocery coupons. Browse channels on
astrology, health, relationships, and working from home. Or click
through "21st Century Solutions: 365 Answers to Women's Everyday
Problems," which the site has been compiling throughout 1999.
Women.com is another buzzing hive
of female activity, where the online newsstand includes such popular
Hearst publications as Cosmopolitan and Good
BEST LATINO NETWORK:
StarMedia has been
called the AOL of Latin America, although it is actually based in
New York. The title fits, however, and after three years of
languishing in start-up land, this extensive portal for Portuguese-
and Spanish-speaking surfers finally hit pay dirt in 1999. StarMedia
serves as the gateway to more than 20 Latin American countries,
providing news, e-mail, home pages, and chat rooms.
ALSO: With the
launch of a new bilingual edition, the Latin American portal El Sitio now includes reportage
from Hispanic communities across the U.S.
BEST AFRICAN-AMERICAN HUB:
With partners that
range from the National Urban League to Hewlett Packard to AOL,
NetNoir has emerged as the Web's premier portal for
African-Americans. It has black-centric news you can personalize
with a My NetNoir page, free e-mail, celebrity interviews, job
networking, a shopping mall featuring black-owned businesses, plus
avatar chat in the Jazz Bar and special communities for teens and
BET.com just launched, but with the
backing of such high-powered investors as News Corp., the Net
version of Black Entertainment Television looks to be a winner.
With its bustling career centers and local network of Chocolate
Cities, the long-running Black
Voices.com (AOL Keyword: Black Voices) remains a popular
BEST ASIAN-AMERICAN NETWORK:
the three years since it began, AsianAvenue has really come of age.
You're likely to find thousands of members -- mostly young and West
Coast in attitude -- online at any given time, chatting live,
checking free e-mail accounts, sending instant pages, and finding
the scoop on everyone from Margaret Cho to the Mountain Brothers.
There's also an enticing slate of features on entertainment, food,
and travel. One piece of constructive advice we're offering, free of
world can better appreciate The Fu Brothers, an online performance
series by the three-man troupe Slant.
BEST RELIGIOUS NETWORKS
A list of the best
gateways for all of the world's religions would be much too long to
publish here, so we'll just hit the major dogmas. Christianity Online (AOL
Keyword: CO) has more than 150,000 members. They use this hub to
pray together, play together, buy Bibles, and surf Jesus sites. Zipple.com is a temple of Judaica,
with chats like the Big Schmooze and Rabbi Rap, and links to things
like Hanukkah and kosher recipes. At IslamiCity, Muslims can listen in
on RealAudio prayer and learn the meaning of a Muslim name. DharmaNet International, the
most well-established Buddhist site, launched a Web ring this year.
The Hindu Universe has an
ashrams-to-Vedas directory of links, plus a special Hindu Kids
Universe. And if you don't have faith in any particular god, the Atheist Alliance is a
place to share your beliefs.