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Community sites form alliance

A group of sites aimed at specific communities based on race, religion, age, sexual orientation, and gender form an organization to share ideas and ads.

About two years ago, Nora Contini, associate publisher of Jewish Community Online, read a story in the local paper about NetNoir and knew instantly that the two organizations could team up.

"I said, 'This is interesting, they are doing with the black community what we are doing with the Jewish community. We should talk to each other.'"

They did. Since then, the two organizations have pulled in six other online groups, all of which cater to specific communities based on race, religion, age, sexual orientation, and gender. Today, the group of eight is officially unveiling itself as Communities Inc., with the idea that they can share ideas and pitfalls of hosting community sites as well as acting as an advertising cooperative.

The alliance's informal slogan is, "It's the best way to reach everyone else," said Tom Rielly, chief executive of PlanetOut, a site catering to the lesbian and gay community.

While each site is able to pull in its own advertisers--from companies wanting to cater to their particular niche as well as those looking to reach a high-scale demographic--they now can give themselves an edge over their competitors by telling the advertisers they can reach across several communities with a single ad.

"The entire Internet world is scrambling for a business model and advertising is what we're all trying to do," Contini said.

The other groups in Communities Inc. are Channel A, catering to the Asian community; LatinoLink; onQ, another gay and lesbian site; SeniorNet; and Third Age, also for seniors.

The group has been meeting about once every six weeks, discussing everything from social issues its members share to new technologies it can offer each other and tips on getting investors.

"We're really excited about it," said E. David Ellington, chief executive of NetNoir. "We're able to share information and discuss opportunities--everything from strategic partnerships to new tools."

The group also offers an opportunity for people running sites to find support for common issues, such as how to deal with Netizens who treat the communities with hostility. For instance, NetNoir's site on AOL was hacked yesterday and a note was posted accusing the site of segregation, Ellington said.

It helps to work with people who have to deal with similar prejudices. For instance, Ellington said, "If I started a site that celebrated French culture and wine and cheese, I don't think anyone would have a problem. Because I started a site based on my culture, then we get challenged."

Contini added that in this day and age, where everyone talks about multiculturalism and diversity, it isn't always easy to find a group that actually embraces it.