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As Billions Pour ...

Regarding the lack of funding, the following article titled 'Youth Violence and the Internet’ is posted at


Copy from my computer appears below. ( also a funny yet true web registration experience is posted on byte.com. If interested search for Web Registration Farce ( May 1999) and enjoy)

As Billions Pour into the Internet, Nothing for Kids
Youth Violence and the Internet

With the recent attention to youth violence, and the dizzying pace of capital flowing into Internet startups, you’d think that an adventure site for teens would be investor’s delight.  One content driven site has been endorsed by Crime Stoppers of Miami, and Miami-Dade County Public Schools.  "Earthstory.com continues to be an exciting project with many positive implications for teaching and learning in the science and language arts curriculum,” says Joseph Mathos, Deputy Director For Education of the nation’s fourth largest school district.  But unfortunately, money is scarce.

Lack of support mystifies Hope Marcus, creator of EARTHSTORY.com <http://www.earthstory.com>  She found her topic in a science article and then attended the Iowa Writers’ Conference.  “The Internet then was just a buzz word, a growing phenomena. Yet the thought of reaching young adults worldwide through meaningful fiction was exciting beyond belief,” she said.  Her vision of a young adult literary site has been in the making for nine years, but it wasn’t until the fall of 1997 that she began the search for funds.  “Maybe I hit the sources before the need became apparent,” she now says.

Lawmakers trying to protect children from the Internet’s darker side are now focusing their efforts away from porno sites to those that promote violence.  Yet, the reality that it takes money to create responsible content sites is not being addressed.  The Annenberg Public Policy Center reports that 78 Percent of US parents are concerned about the type of content their children can access on-line. Jupiter Communications reports that 10 million teen-agers are on-line.  The audience is vast, and growing.   Considering the scarcity of funds for such sites, Marcus believes that content development for teens has been short-changed.

In an e-mail letter from WebLab, an Internet funding source with limited resources, Chad Ossman, a project assistant writes: “ ...we can tell you that none of them [the current awards] are specifically for young audiences.  Also, we don't know of any funding resources specifically for kid’s sites.”   As relates to children’s sites, Marcus believes the lack of meaningful material is hurting the industry.  If the Internet is to reach its full potential, kid’s sites, and those for adults, too, should be more than on-line brochures.

During a recent  @d:tech conference on Internet advertising and marketing, mixed reports came in. While advertising revenues hit $1.92 billion in 1998, doubling the $907 million spent in 1997, and products and services advertised on-line were more diverse, a study by the Association of National Advertisers showed that uncertainties exist.  The percentage of companies that had advertise on-line decreased to 61 percent during 1998 from 68 percent the year before. Those that continue advertising on the Internet are spending less than they did a year ago, the study found -- $649,000 in 1998 versus $714,000 the year before.

Major corporations remain skeptical of how to put a value on on-line advertising because they cannot measure results.  No one really knows whether ads are downloaded half way, or never seen at all.  Marcus maintains that a remedy would be to make sites meaningful so that ads wouldn’t be dumped.  But because of the expense involved in building a meaningful site, enrichment content on commercial sites is scarce.  “It costs more to develop and maintain a content driven site than to put a banner ad somewhere,” Marcus says.

“Where is on-line mystery, adventure -- buried in a shopping cart?” she asks.  Marcus wonders what happened to the idea that budding minds seek exploration, not common click-click games that lead from one advertising page into another.  On popular children’s commercial sites morphing content into advertising has its drawbacks.  Messages are sandwiched between commercialism disguised as content, and a marketers vision.  Most educators would agree that turning content into advertising is not particularly healthy for developing minds.

Miami Crime Stoppers supports the idea of environmental programming for children, and under their auspices, Marcus sent out funding requests. Absorbing the costs herself, Marcus contacted businesses with commercial interests relating to the Internet. She applied to AT&T, BellSouth, Microsoft, AOL, Apple, Dell, just to name a few. Forms were also submitted to the local Annenberg Challenge office, a local venture capital firm, and others.  Hoping to form an alliance with a larger organization, Marcus approached the local  science museum.  She discovered they prefer to keep things in-house.  “Partnering with an outsider is apparently discouraged in the not-for-profit culture,” she said.

The most ironic rejection came from the Division of Elementary Secondary and Informal Education, ESIE, at the National Science Foundation. “The NSF deemed irrelevant the very outcomes I hope to achieve,” Marcus said. “Yet they consider themselves to be the utmost authority in decreeing science content for children.  They only wanted documentation, confirmation, and verification of this and that, processes unrelated to the project’s goal. The reality that the language of a scientist differs from that of a story teller was beyond them.  They never asked about the creativity, the relationships, searches for self and meaningful quests that fiction develops. I would have sent them the whole manuscript had they asked.”

On woman from another government agency said: “Well, we are the government and it is our job to carefully monitor how we spend your money.”   To Marcus, ‘cash back value’ remains a dubious phrase.

To date, all of Marcus’ efforts have been self funded.  “My Mother’s Day gift was new G3 Power Mac, I’d been working on older, much slower machine.  The new computer will speed up the artwork creation, but I am a writer, not an illustrator, and it takes me forever to make the images I need,” she said.  Marcus also needs editors, a site designer, animators, illustrators, the whole crew.  Right now she is a one person enthusiast and the going is very, very slow.

A study by the Federal Trade Commission concluded that 89 percent of children's sites surveyed collected personal information from children. It was that study that prompted recent rulings on matters of privacy. "Kids are a particularly vulnerable audience," Robert Pitofsky, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission was quoted in the New York Times. "You mix the invasions of privacy with kids and you have a particularly combustible mix."

Combustible?  An unfortunate metaphor in light of the recent Colorado and Georgia tragedies.  But the message is clear: Funding is needed to ensure responsible children’s site development.

Hope Marcus
9595 SW 73 Avenue
Miami, FL 33136
Phone 305.661.8912