P.O.V. Opens Door to New Schemes for Content

NEW YORK IS FILLED with talented people with a dollar and a dream. But it takes more than the sum of those assets to build a successful Web site, engage an audience, and take it to market. Venture funding in this town goes to two things only: community marketing schemes and technology, never to original content. So what do you do if you have a wonderful idea using the powers of the Web to tell a story in this town?

Enter the Web Development Fund, brainchild of Marc Weiss, the celebrated founder of PBS's socially redeeming series of programs P.O.V., many of which have spawned truly interactive Web sites that engage their audiences more than TV can. The idea is simple: fund interesting Web projects up to $50,000 and serve them from the PBS site. And PBS has made an application form available only online for would-be site creators.

The emphasis, said Weiss in an @NY interview, is as much on dialogue as on design. "We want to encourage people to think creatively," he said. "There are no categories, innovation is the goal, not for innovation's sake, but because our feeling, as everyone who's spent a day and a half on the Web knows, is that, we're really at the beginning." And while the medium is under almost constant assault from technological advancements, the story-telling side has been slower to evolve. "We want to push it in the context of content," said Weiss, who oversees a tiny Web staff in New York. "We want a lot of user-created content."

In other words, the sites that come out of the Web Development Fund effort have to be two-way, immersive pieces, not mere experiments in html and graphics. For an example of what Weiss means, take a peek at the P.O.V. sites (http://www.pbs.org/pov). In the Vietnam site, for instance, modern-day stories of pain and remembrance add a living document to augment the television show.

"It adds multiple perspectives," said Weiss, who believes traditional media storytelling today separates the story from real people's lives.

Don't expect to get rich, however. PBS expects a vast amount of sweat equity to go with your great idea; apply only if you'd consider doing it for nearly nothing anyway and need some technical help, advice, and exposure. Still, it might be just the ticket for frustrated Silicon Alley production types who want to leave their mark in more than just the latest soap suds site coding.

And while the effort is national, Weiss is cognizant of his role in the New York new media scene, and plans to involve local Web design shops in the effort. Several prominent Silicon Alley types grace the advisory board, including Red Burns of NYU and Echo founder Stacy Horn. "This is a very fertile environment," Weiss said. "It's wonderful to be able to reach out into this community very quickly, to socialize with people, to go out and knock on some doors, to partner with other organizations."

SILICON ALLEY BRINGS TECHNOLOGY TO SCHOOLS . . . The New York City school district is the nation's largest and one of the most politically charged. Unfortunately that often means that, for the Board of Education, programs that might actually improve classroom education and resources often occupy agenda space below political wrangling and power struggles.

But New York nightclub impresario Andrew Rasiej hopes to make a difference. Rasiej, president of Irving Plaza, has founded NY MOUSE (Making Opportunities for Upgrading Schools and Education). The group is a non-profit organization charged with bringing not just technology into schools but also making schools aware of new ways to use technology in teaching. And the group is relying heavily on the kindness of strangers--namely volunteers from Silicon Alley.

Already the group has assembled a high powered advisory board that includes Silicon Alley mainstays like Nicholas Butterworth of SonicNet, Howard Greenstein of Microsoft, and Gene DeRose of Jupiter Communications.

The project grew out of NetDay efforts to wire Washington Irving High School, and wiring schools remains a top priority--with another NetDay event set for October 25. But according to Rasiej wiring schools is meaningless unless teachers know how to use technology to teach. "Our new industry has to discover and learn how to make an educational system for the new era," he said. "It's time to start rethinking what education is."

"We've been plopping computers into schools and the teachers haven't been using them," said Sarah Holloway, MOUSE's acting director. Working closely with the superintendent of Manhattan High Schools, NY MOUSE has already arranged to launch a series of pilot programs in five city schools: George Washington High School, Manhattan Center High School, Martin Luther King High School, Murray Bergtraum High School, and Washington Irving. First round plans include pulling wire, networking computer labs, and repairing and upgrading computers that are in place. Then volunteers will help teachers learn how to use software, find Net resources, and build Net content.

But the bigger challenge will be finding ways to integrate the technology into the curriculum. For that the organization is working with Media Workshop--a group of educators from the Bank Street College of Education, funded by The Bertelsmann Foundation. "How do the teachers learn to think non-linearly?" asked Media Workshop's Katherine DeFoyd, describing the key educational challenge.

Holloway is building a database of Silicon Alley volunteers now. If you're interested, drop her a line at sarah@i-2000.com. Of course, the group is not all about good will only, said Rasiej. "This is not a philanthropic effort; it's a strategic initiative," he said. Because if a young generation is not trained in new media thinking, Silicon Alley companies will have no future employees or customers.

NOT-FOR-PROFIT POWER . . . Microsoft and famed labor attorney Ted Kheel will announce a major new initiative to wire New York's not-for-profit agencies and introduce them to the wonders of the digital age, @NY has learned.

At a Tuesday press conference at the New York Information Technology Center at 55 Broad Street, Kheel, Microsoft's New York area general manager Bob Jones, former Mayor David Dinkins, and the Earth Pledge Foundation will announce an ambitious program to help non-profits develop Web sites and use technology effectively. Called "Showcase New York" the program is the most ambitious online effort yet for the Earth Pledge Foundation, founded by Kheel in 1991 to promote the concept of sustainable resources, which he has since expanded to encompass digital information.

The program's slogan, "Technology working for the greater New York non-profit community," is intentionally broad, said Hoffman, because Showcase New York will assist non-profits free of charge with computer hardware, software, and training, as well as site development. Microsoft's Jones called it a "major effort" on the company's behalf, and organizers hope to involve other companies in Silicon Alley. Advisory committee members include Dinkins, Kheel, Jones, NYITC's John Gilbert, New York Online's Omar Wasow, and the New York New Media Association's Lori Schwab.

This week, Kheel and the Earth Pledge staff toured the space at 55 Broad that will house one of the training centers, a gleaming room filled with rows of powerful new PCs and a state-of-the-art projection system, where 24 people at a time can learn how to build a Web site. The effort will be based at 55 Broad and at the Earth Pledge Foundation's headquarters up on Madison Avenue, at least until work on Foundation House, a super-wired headquarters for non-profit technology, is finished.

The first three non-profits to benefit from the program are the Public Theater, the Hudson Valley Children's Museum, and the Apollo Theatre, said Leslie Hoffman, executive director of Earth Pledge. "There is a very real risk of the non-profit community being left out of the information revolution," said Hoffman.

RUMBLE IN DC . . . East met West again yesterday in the Second Cool Site in a Day Contest. Last February, Silicon Alley and the forces of the East won a battle in the on-going PR war with the new media gurus of the West when team of Web designers, lead by Agency.Com founder Kyle Shannon, took top honors in the first one-day Web design shoot out. This time, the West prevailed. The contest, sponsored by Web Review, goes like this: two teams of Web designers are given information and art from a not-for-profit. They have 8 hours to build a Website. At the end of the 8 hours the sites are judged. This year's contest involved sites for the Literacy Volunteers of America. The East Coast team, lead by Cybergrrl Aliza Sherman, ironically were beaten at the thing New York is supposed to do best--content. The East Coast site was beautifully designed and clean, but the West Coast site hooked in surfers by leading with the stories of illiterate adults and children learning how to read through LVA program. And, naturally, human stories were a winner. "Our opponents were strong but the contest was actually very close," said Sherman. "We came away with a site we were proud of creating and new friendships with people whom we each had long admired." The New York team included Heather Irwin, creative director and co-editor of Maximag.com; and Leslie Harpold, founder of the New York Webzine Smug. Its contest site is available at http://www.smug.com/010101/. The winning site, created by a team headed by Derek Powazek, creator of Fray. See the winning site at http://www.fray.com/lva/.

ARE PICTURES WORTH A THOUSAND DOWNLOADS? . . . In a world like the Net, where everyone is a publisher, there's always a keen need for content. Out in the regular world of old media there are folks who sell canned content--stock music, video, and photography for publishers to use in assembling newspapers, television shows, radio programming, and ads. Suddenly stock houses are popping up for Internet publishers as well. This week Index Stock Photography launched Photos To Go -- a Website that offers Net surfers the chance to browse, buy and download stock photographs from 375 photographers. Prices vary since buyer purchase different licenses for use of the images they download. The service is being targeted at small and home-based businesses, personal page publishers, and individual users who want to license images for use on things like personalized greeting cards. "Images are licensed on the Web just as they are for traditional use," said Kathy Mullins, vice president of electronic services. "However, the price is still based on the exposure of the image, so when the scope of use is narrow, as in an electronic presentation or private greeting card, the price comes down drastically."

WEB TO PRINT: IS IT KOSHER? . . . It's a trend that can't be ignored, even during the High Holy Days: another Web site is going turning to the world of print to make money. This time it's JCN, the Jewish Communications Network's site that features Internet forum discussions, cutting-edge polls and humor and hip articles on politics, food, women, arts, books, science, Israel, sports, and Jewish holidays. The new "Jewish Ink" will feature excerpts from the New York-based site. "We discovered that, amazingly, not every Jew has Internet access," said Niv Bleich, president of JCN. Tzvee Zahavy, the editor-in-chief, pegs the content as a kind of Jewish Slate, without the Microsoft backing of course.

ACTIVE DESKTOP, ACTIVE WEB SHOP . . . When Microsoft finally released its long-anticipated Internet Explore 4.0 this week, Silicon Alley's Square Earth, Inc. was ready. The Web systems developer provided development services for premier Active Channel partners the Gartner Group and SABRE Group. In addition, advanced IE 4.0 functionality plays a critical role in upcoming multi-tier applications Square Earth is building for its other corporate clients. The new Microsoft features, said CEO Bradley Galle, "allow us to build intranet and extranet solutions that deliver critical business information faster, are more tightly integrated with existing systems and provide users with more flexible interface options." The Gartner Group's Adviser Channel delivers research, analysis and abstracts published by the Gartner Group. The SABRE Group's Travelocity channel provides research tools for travel deals and destinations, airport weather conditions, and tips from travel experts. But the big money may be in the large-scale, proprietary back-end systems, like Square Earth's TIENet, an extranet distribution system for Lee Printwear/Bassett-Walker; StaffTrak, an event tracking and scheduling intranet application for Microsoft; and a financial services extranet built for Oppenheimer & Co.

1-0-1-0 -- i/o 360 -- The Silicon Alley Web shop is moving and grooving these days, with a bunch of new clients and some recent kudos. The Soho-based firm signed contracts with Judy Wert, Polo Ralph Lauren, Fujitsu and Hearst New Media. And its on-line campaign for Barnes and Noble was selected into the Twentieth Annual 100 Show of the American Center for Design. (http://www.io360.com)

1-0-1-0 -- ABILON, USA -- The Canadian Website and software development company has opening a New York office and named Cecilia Pagkalinawan president. She'll will manage Abilon's sales, marketing, production and operations from Silicon Alley. Most recently Pagkalinawan was creative director and interactive executive producer at Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetter. Before that she was vice president of creative affairs and client services at K2 Design. (http://www.abilon.com)

1-0-1-0 -- BLOOMBERG -- In many ways Michael Bloomberg was New York's first new media giant--inventing the online deliver of financial news to consumers via custom laptop computers at a time when the graphical Web browser was just a twinkle in Mark Andreesen's eye. But how to do you exploit that content on the Net when people are paying $2Gs a month for it over custom terminals? By pushing content over IE 4.0's active desktop apparently. This week Bloomberg announced a deal with Microsoft for creating an Bloomberg Channel. We love Michael Bloomberg, but we still thing push channels are a losing proposition. (http://www.bloomberg.com)

1-0-1-0 -- E-PUB -- David Becker, former vice president at E-Pub, has been promoted to president. In his new position, Becker will manage brand and product development, as well as sales and marketing for the soon to be launched UPROAR, multi-user entertainment Web site. Prior to joining E-Pub, Becker was program development director and later brand development director for Time Magazine and Time Online. Where he cut a lucrative two-year deal with CompuServe. E-Pub builds chat software and multi-player Web-based games. (http://www.e-pub.com)

1-0-1-0 -- MJI INTERACTIVE -- Country music has never really played in New York, but it's HUGE in the national market. So this week MJI Interactive unveiled CountryNow.com, a new daily music news and entertainment Web service that parent corporation MJI Broadcasting will offer to customize for various country radio Websites. MJI offers syndicated radio content to radio stations nationally and has steadily been adding Internet content to it's mix. Besides New York, MJI has offices in Los Angeles, Nashville, Chicago, Cleveland and Fort Lauderdale. (http://www.countrynow.com)

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