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Afrocentric site targets community

The Black World Today relaunches in hopes of capitalizing on an untapped online market: the African American community.

With this week's relaunch, The Black World Today is hoping to capitalize on a largely untapped online market: the African American community.

The site, which launched one year ago, is adding community-oriented features such as chat rooms, message boards, free email for registered members, and online classified ads.

Don Rojas, publisher and chief executive of The Black World Today, as well as former director of communications for the NAACP, believes that these features will draw eyeballs and advertising dollars to his site, which averages 500,000 hits per month.

"We felt that this was very logical to make this transition, to build a community around the content we've been offering for the last year," he said. Rojas added he aims to increase his traffic to 1 million hits per month by the end of the year.

Sites like NetNoir and the Microsoft-sponsored MSBET have been targeting an Afrocentric audience for some time. But The Black World Today, or TBWT, hopes that its community-oriented look and feel will make it "the one 'must stop' in cyberspace for blacks the world over," according to its mission statement.

TBWT offers free memberships to readers who register online and depends on advertising dollars and low overhead costs to thrive. Rojas hopes to turn a profit within the next year.

While he is actively seeking sponsorship from venture capitalists, corporations, and institutions, Rojas acknowledges that "no one has really responded positively yet" because of the relatively low numbers of African Americans who have logged on.

But Rojas and market analysts believe that this view is shortsighted. Kate Delhagen, an analyst with Forrester Research, thinks the time is right for sites targeting demographic minorities.

"There is absolutely an opportunity here," she said. "As the Internet continues to move through mainstream America, the net result is a more diverse audience."

Delhagen estimates that a little under 20 percent of Americans online are black. "Now is a good time for content developers to move beyond the 35-year-old white male target audience."