New Web Site to Simplify Public-Interest Searches

By Arshad Mohammed
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 8, 2006

One Economy Corp., a nonprofit group that seeks to bring the benefits of broadband Internet access to the poor, today will announce plans to create a public-interest Web site with easily accessible information about public safety, emergency services, education, health and economic opportunities.

The project, to be called the Public Internet Channel, reflects One Economy's belief that much of the content on the Internet is not easy to find or presented in simple, digestible ways, particularly for those who are not Web-savvy.

Once up and running, the new Web site is to feature original content written in English and Spanish at a fifth-grade literacy level, as well as provide links to existing information on the Web. The site, which may be available in pilot versions within a year, would offer people practical advice on topics such as disaster preparation, low-income tax benefits and finding local health services.

Rey Ramsey, chief executive of District-based One Economy, said that while much attention had been paid to closing the "digital divide" to provide Web access for the poor, not enough had been devoted to ensuring that relevant content is available on the Internet.

"Here it has been this transformative tool for businesses . . . but yet when we look at the issue of poverty and how we engage the poor, we have really not maximized technology well enough at all," he said. "This will be an effort to focus on the silent twin: content."

Analysts said it made sense to create such a Web site, but they said that getting the content right is never easy and that the greatest difficulty may be getting people to visit it and use the information.

"This is very challenging stuff they are trying to do," said John Horrigan, associate director of research at the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Horrigan said a 2003 Pew survey found about 6 percent of Internet users had visited an analogous federal government Web site ( http://www.firstgov.gov ) that helps people find their way around the government's home on the Internet. "It's really hard to get users to go to these one-stop-shopping portals for things like this."

The group said that the annual operating costs are $10 million to $12 million and that it aims to raise a $20 million fund to start the project, seeking money from philanthropic foundations and corporate sponsorships from high-tech and communications companies.

One Economy plans to seek agreements with government and private and nonprofit groups to allow their content to be showcased on the site. It hopes to start pilot projects in San Francisco, Baltimore and New Orleans within a year.

The new Web site would dramatically expand on content already available on One Economy's existing site ( http://www.thebeehive.org ) that has basic information for low-income people, including tips on homework tips, credit and how much life insurance to buy.


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