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Rheingold has something in mind

Howard Rheingold looks at the Web and sees a hunger for community, for communication, for intelligent conversation--a hunger he hopes to sate.

    Howard Rheingold looks at the Web and sees a hunger for community, for communication, for intelligent conversation--a hunger he hopes to sate with a start-up called Electric Minds.

    Rheingold made his fame in the online community as author of The Virtual Community, a book about how the Internet can support and even replace many of the more traditional forums for community interaction and communication. He hopes that Electric Minds will give people who long for intelligent, worldwide communication about the ramifications of technology a place to go on the Web.

    Venues like Usenet and email repositories already provide space for some of those discussions. But Rheingold says he wants to bring those conversations to the one place most accessible to the greatest number of people: the Web.

    "There something happening out there," Rheingold said this morning. "There's a real fervor for many-to-many communications--grassroots communication, not just Time Warner or Microsoft giving us their slick version of communication. Improving the interface means it's not computer geeks [participating in the discussions]. We want to bring that grassroots social community to the Web."

    The Electric Minds launch is slated for late September. Rheingold won't divulge yet many details about what the site will really be like but he says it will "combine publishing and community to create something that's totally new--a hybrid."

    He does have some guests lined up already, including Mark Pesce, the co-creator of VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language); Laura Lemay, author of Teach Yourself Web Publishing with HTML in a Week, and Justin Hall, who has made a name for himself documenting his life daily on his Web site.

    They'll lead discussions addressing such topics as virtual communities or geographic information systems. From there, users--and that means anyone who has access to the Web--will take over.

    "We're as cool as you make it," Rheingold said. "I'd rather have 100,000 very engaged, somewhat knowledgeable people rather than a million of everybody. We do want to offer something to people that's missing: That's a community with spirit that built the Internet but seems to be missing from the Web lately. I think we're going to move the Web to be a social medium. Right now there are 10 million lonely surfers out there."

    Like other sites, Electric Minds will be supported by advertising. The first sponsor is US West, and Softbank is the lead investor, Rheingold said.