Face Off

Can the Web be a model for real-world race relations?

Except you need something to draw the crowd--and just meeting identical or like-minded people may not be enough. A pointed example is sinanet.com, which is vying to become an online hub for "global Chinese." But check into the "Surviving at US Universities" bulletin board and all you'll see is the frustration of users shouting into the void. (Sample quotes from the chat: "Is anyone around??????" and "Okay, I probably need to talk to myself again.") Perhaps there are too many differences among Asians to develop one catchall site for them, as Liu argues. Or, as Yang says, the problem might be akin to the real world, where Asian Americans are "broken down into populations that are small and distant" from each other.

Ultimately, online communities can only do so much before live interaction has to cement the relationship--and this is where the Echo/CLN effort might find itself falling short, into what Amaré calls the "Now What? Syndrome." The Brawley exchange "is a great idea, but it's just another talk show," he says. Amaré is organizing online conferences where discussions are followed up by "action items"--face-to-face meetings. But if the real world meeting serves as a necessary catalyst for real growth, the online world might be the only place where such racially charged conversations can begin. "Online gives you distance and time," says Horn. "You have a place where you can cool off, think about it, and come back." As online, so someday on land. Or so we hope.

Signal and Noise

  • Heavy Weather: Ex-HotWired executive editor Gary Wolf just snagged a low six-figure advance from Random House for the tentatively titled Bengali Typhoon--the story of the wild birth, adolescence, and strange divorce of Wired Ventures from itself (HotWired, Wired News, and even Wired.com constitute a separate company from Wired since the magazine was bought by Condé Nast). The title comes from founder Louis Rossetto's infamous claim that the online revolution would hit the world like a cataclysmic storm. If the Net's going to rewrite the world, why are people penning books--as old-media as you can get--about it?

  • Web Surgery: Jorn Barger's Robot Wisdom WebLog (www.mcs.net/ ~jorn/ html/ weblogs/ weblog.html) might not be pretty, but it's one of the best collections of news and musings culled from the Web--and updated daily (Machine Age occasionally gets a nod). Last week, Barger conducted a semiscientific study on the "visibility" of news sources online by querying newsgroups. Top of the list? News.com, with 8693 mentions. The Drudge Report edged out The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Bloomberg. Note to Barger: just don't become a "portal."
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